SAN FRANCISCO -- The California
Supreme Court granted a law license on Thursday to a man living in the United States illegally who graduated from law school and passed the state
The decision means Sergio Garcia
can begin practicing law despite his immigration status.
Garcia had challenged a
1996 federal law that bars people living in the country illegally from
receiving professional licenses from government agencies or with the use of
public funds, unless state lawmakers vote otherwise.
Shortly after the court heard
arguments in the case, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state law that
authorized the granting of the license. The new law went into effect Jan. 1.
Garcia arrived in the U.S.
illegally 20 years ago to pick almonds with his father and worked at a grocery
store and in the fields while attending school.
The case has pitted the Obama
administration, which opposes licensing Garcia,
against state officials who have supported him.
The Obama position in the case came as
a surprise to some, since it adopted a program that shields people who were
brought to the U.S. as children, graduated from high school and have kept a
clean criminal record from deportation and allows them to legally work in the
At a hearing in September a majority
of the state Supreme Court justices appeared reluctant to grant Garcia the license, saying the law prohibits
them from doing so unless the Legislature acts.
The court is in charge of licensing
attorneys in California.
Lawyers for the federal government
argued that Garcia was barred from
receiving his license because the court's budget is funded by public money.
said his case is about showing other immigrants that hard work and dedication
mean something in the U.S.
Garcia, 36, worked in the
fields and at a grocery store before attending community college. He became a
paralegal, went to law school and passed the bar on his first try. He applied
for citizenship in 1994, and is still working toward that goal.
His effort has been supported by State
Bar officials and California's attorney general, who argued that citizenship
status is not a requirement to receive a California law license.