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Can an undocumented immigrant practice law in California?

A section of the California seal hangs on the front of the State of California Earl Warren building.
A section of the California seal hangs on the front of the State of California Earl Warren building.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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For most applicants trying to gain a license to practice law in California, the requirements are cut and dry. There is a written test, an examination of one’s moral character, a routine background check, and the appropriate degree from an accredited school. Once met, the State Bar of California certifies the application and sends it to the California Supreme Court for nominal approval.

Sergio C. Garcia is one such legal hopeful who has fulfilled all these obligations, so why is the California Supreme Court holding hearings to review his specific case? Because Garcia is an undocumented immigrant. He was brought to the country from Mexico at seventeen-months-old, and has lived his entire life since then here. He has now filed for legal status, but that is just step one in a process that could take up to fifteen years.

This is the first case of its kind in California, and it opens up the door to numerous questions about undocumented immigrants and their right to work for state agencies. With similar cases pending in Florida and New York, it will surely add fuel to the fire that is the current national debate on immigration.


Should an undocumented immigrant be allowed to practice law in this country? If officers of the court must uphold the law, would Garcia be seen as breaking it, even if he was brought to this country as a young child? How would you respond if you found out your lawyer was someone in Mr. Garcia’s shoes? Does it really make a difference?


Holly Cooper, lecturer and staff attorney with the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic

John Eastman, professor and former dean at Chapman University Law School in Orange, Calif.