Sergio Garcia was brought across the Mexican border into California, at the age of 17 months, by his illegally immigrating parents. Thanks to the muddled and inconsistent enforcement of its immigration laws, Garcia graduated from Chico State University, a Florida law school and passed the California State Bar exam in July 2009., all while being in the country illegally. Now a special committee of the California Bar has recommended that he be licensed to practice in the state, but the California Supreme Court has reservations, and wants to read briefs on the issue. That issue is also the Ethics Alarms Quiz this weekend, and I must admit, it is a question I never thought would rise to status of a debate:
Should an illegal immigrant be allowed to practice law?
Garcia’s supporters, which include his attorney and distinguished legal ethics authority Jerome Fishkin, have what they believe are compelling arguments for the answer to be in the affirmative:
- The only official requirements for practicing law in California are a law degree from an accredited law school, a background check that doesn’t turn up anything horrifying, a positive finding of “moral character,” a Social Security number ( though an applicant can get an exemption). Nothing says an applicant has to be a legal citizen.
- The usual “Dream Act” justifications: Garcia didn’t come here voluntarily, he has amassed solid credentials, he considers himself an American, and has worked diligently to get to this point.
- He is awaiting a green card, though it could take up to 15 years for it to be approved.
On the other side is this: Of COURSE an illegal immigrant shouldn’t be granted a law license! Has the world gone stark raving mad?
I’m sorry. I’m better now.
I sympathize with Garcia, and I would hate to be in his position. Until, however, the position illegally immigrating parents place their children in by breaking U.S. laws is correctly perceived as a disadvantageous one, people will continue to cheat the system and bring their children into the country and a life of deception. Lawyers are sworn to uphold the law, and a past of scofflaw behavior almost always will automatically bar an applicant for admission from the practice of law unless there has been a sharp reversal of conduct and convincing proof that the applicant is a different person from the lawbreaker past. In Garcia’s case, however, he will still be breaking the law, as he has virtually his entire life. He may feel like an American, but he isn’t one. The process of becoming a legal citizen may be long and arduous, but that’s unavoidable. A strong argument could be made that a life-time illegal immigrant should never be eligible for lawyer status, and I my make it, but right now I don’t have to. The argument that a currently illegal immigrant shouldn’t practice law is stronger still.
A Los Angeles Times article noted the many legal issues, raised by the court, that would be created by a licensed lawyer who was not a legal citizen, such as,
“Would the issuance of a license imply that Garcia could be legally employed as an attorney? What are the legal and public policy limitations, if any, on an illegal immigrant’s ability to be a lawyer? May other state agencies that license professionals also admit undocumented immigrants?“
Fortunately, we don’t have to cross those bridges until we come to them, which should be never. Of the many benefits of purloined presence within Americas borders that should not require a protracted debate to reject, the ability to be part of the legal system should top the list. No, illegals, no matter how sympathetic they might be, must never be allowed to practice law.
The fact that this seems to be tough ethics quiz question for California helps explain why that state is in such a mess.
Pointer: ABA Journal
Graphic: Ukraine Consultant
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