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The Case of Sergio Garcia

This week the California Supreme Court granted a motion by the California State Bar's Committee of Bar Examiners to admit Sergio Garcia to the State Bar and allow him to practice law in California.

Although Mr. Garcia had graduated from law school and passed the bar on his first try, he couldn't qualify for a professional license as a lawyer in California because he was an "undocumented immigrant." But California Governor Edmund G. Brown signed new legislation last October authorizing issuance of law licenses to individuals like Mr. Garcia who meet all the qualifications for admission to the State Bar but who remain in the United States without authorization from the federal government. The California Supreme Court held that there was no impediment to admitting Mr. Garcia to practice because the state law did not conflict with federal law denying professional licenses to undocumented immigrants, and Mr. Garcia met the standards and requirements entitling him to be admitted as a member of the State Bar.

The California Supreme Court had little difficulty concluding that Mr. Garcia should be admitted to practice law in California. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye penned the majority opinion which was joined by the other six California Supreme Court justices. Justice Ming Chin wrote a separate concurrence, disagreeing not with the reasoning of the decision but with the accuracy of the terminology used to describe Mr. Garcia. Justice Chin argued that the term "undocumented immigrant" was misplaced and "euphemistic." He would have preferred to refer Mr. Garcia -- as a member of the class of persons present in the United States without federal authorization -- as an "unlawful alien."

This, to me, was the most interesting aspect of the Supreme Court's opinion. Finding the correct terminology did not matter to the outcome of Mr. Garcia's case because he was clearly entitled to protection under state law. So in a sense the Court digressed by discussing a non-issue. But the justices on the California Supreme Court were clearly uncomfortable with using such terms as "unlawful," "unauthorized," or "illegal aliens" because of their "problematical connotations." Even if they did not come out and say it, the majority at least validated the point that the estimated 11.5 million non-U.S. citizens who lack federal permission to live and work in the United States are indeed human beings and not space invaders.

Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.

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