Monday, July 23, 2012
LACBA, Other Bar Groups Urge Bar Admission of Non-Citizen
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Former Los Angeles County Bar Assn. President Eric Webber of Irell & Manella on Friday e-mailed bar leaders a copy of the brief authored by himself and former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno in support of the application for bar membership for a non-citizen without an immigrant visa.
The amicus brief was presented to the Supreme Court Wednesday with an application for leave to file it. It is supported by the Los Angeles County Bar Association and 15 other bar groups, including the Beverly Hills Bar Association, the Mexican American Bar Association of Los Angeles County, the Multicultural Bar Alliance of Southern California.
The brief argues against application of a federal statute that declares that an illegal alien “is not eligible for any State or local public benefit.” It declares:
“Amici submit that the application of federal law, and specifically 8 U.S.C. § 1621, to the instant proceeding is improper and unwarranted, and would essentially conscript the State Bar and this Court into the interpretation and enforcement of federal immigration law. Further, imposing federal immigration law requirements upon attorney licensure would inappropriately and unnecessarily subordinate the Court’s and the State’s interests in public protection to federal policy unrelated to that goal.
“The Court wields plenary power over the practice of law in California, including the determination whether to admit applicants to the State Bar. For federal law to impose an additional admission requirement would be unprecedented. Moreover, the Court and the State Legislature have previously decided that factors like citizenship and residency are irrelevant to attorney licensure.”
Blanket Inquiries Unnecessary
The brief goes on to say:
“To the limited extent that immigration status might be relevant to an attorney’s fitness to practice California law, it is unnecessary to address the matter via blanket inquiries in connection with State Bar admissions. If there is a determination by competent federal authorities or other compelling evidence that a State Bar member has committed an immigration law violation that bears on the attorney’s fitness to practice law, the State Bar’s existing disciplinary system is adequate to address the matter on a case-by-case basis, just as it would address any other violation of law by a State Bar member.”
Moreno said in a press statement:
“We strongly encourage the court to admit Sergio Garcia to the state bar. He has met all of the necessary qualifications, including earning a J.D., passing the bar exam, a background check and positive finding of moral character. His undocumented status alone should not preclude him from receiving a law license.”
“LACBA is committed to diversity in the legal profession, as well as to fairness and equal treatment in state bar admissions. We believe that each applicant to the state bar should be evaluated objectively, that all applicants who meet the state bar’s admissions’ standards should be admitted, and that immigration status is, of itself, irrelevant to an individual’s fitness to practice law.”
Application Long Pending
Garcia’s family brought him into the U.S. from Mexico when he was 17 months old and, while he was still a child, applied to the federal immigration authorities to have his status adjusted to that of a legal resident. That application has now been pending for nearly 18 years.
During that time, Garcia went on to graduate from Chico State University and Cal Northern School of Law and passed the California bar exam in July 2009. After passing the bar exam, however, he was told he might not be permitted to join the State Bar because he had disclosed his undocumented status on the application form.
The State Bar certified Garcia as fit to practice law and sent his application to the California Supreme Court for approval, but noted that Garcia is an undocumented immigrant. In a unanimous action, the Supreme Court then called for briefing on whether an illegal immigrant should be given a license to practice law.
After written arguments, the state high court may hear oral arguments in the matter.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris also presented a brief to the Supreme Court on Wednesday in support of Garcia’s application. The court is also seeking input from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Admitting Garcia to the bar would be consistent with state and federal policy that encourages immigrants, both documented and undocumented, to contribute to society,” Harris wrote in her brief to the Supreme Court.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Dream Bar Association, and a coalition of civil rights and legal groups also submitted an amicus brief.
MALDEF Chief Comments
Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, on Friday expressed confidence that the Supreme Court will admit Garcia. He said in a news release:
“After reviewing federal and state law, the California Supreme Court should conclude that barring admission on the basis of immigration status would violate established public policy and raise serious constitutional concerns. We are therefore confident that the Court will recognize that the Bar’s recommendation to admit is well-supported and the right decision for California.”
MALDEF Staff Attorney Nicholas Espiritu remarked:
“California has wisely decided that undocumented students should be allowed to pursue their academic dreams, and the federal government is taking steps to provide these individuals with a way to come out of the shadows and contribute to this society. By allowing them the opportunity to become members of the Bar, the California Supreme Court will further these goals.”
Garcia’s attorney, Jerome Fishkin, said his client deserves the opportunity to practice law.
“Sergio is poster boy for the sort of immigrant that made this country great. He comes here, he works hard, he’s not been on welfare, not taken student loans and worked his way all the way through,” Fishkin said.
Opposition to Admission
However, Larry DeSha, a former State Bar prosecutor, said the issue comes down to whether or not Garcia can uphold his oath.
“It is the duty of an attorney to support the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state,” DeSha said. “My argument is that includes immigration law, which means not being here illegally.”
“It’s a difficult position,” Garcia told AP on Thursday. “It’s like being in limbo.
“I don’t belong anywhere.”
He didn’t expect his immigration status to interfere with his aspirations to be a lawyer, he said, until the State Bar of California started asking for prospective applicants’ immigration status right before he passed the bar exam. He told the State Bar his status was pending.
“I have done the best I can within my limitations and circumstances to be 100 percent honest and upfront,” Garcia said.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company