Undocumented Law School Grads and Students Prepare Lobby

By Leslie Layton, Chico Sol/New America Media

An organization calling itself the DREAM Bar Association (DBA) is launching a national campaign on behalf of undocumented immigrants who want licenses to practice law after meeting all state requirements.

Sergio Garcia, a Chico-area law school graduate who has an application for legal residency pending, traveled Sunday to Washington, D.C. to join other undocumented law school graduates and law students for a Nov. 13 press conference. Garcia’s right to a California law license is under consideration by the state Supreme Court.

The group announced a “DREAM Lawyers” campaign, named after the “DREAMers” — young undocumented immigrants who have grown up in this country, who call it home, and who want a path to legal residency through DREAM Act legislation. But this group says it wants both comprehensive immigration reform as well a path to a law license for those who graduate an accredited law school, pass the bar and meet character and other requirements.

“You do all the hard work to get to the finish line, and then you’re told you cannot practice your career,” Garcia said Sunday in an interview broadcast on community radio station KZFR. “It’s heart breaking.”

Garcia and other DBA members distributed a press release that says their campaign is designed “…to encourage all 50 states to grant law licenses to undocumented immigrants and emphasize the need to reform our nation’s immigration laws.”

The DBA press conference was held at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio, a law school graduate who has a case pending in the Florida Supreme Court that will decide his right to practice in that state, spoke alongside Garcia and representatives from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and other advocacy organizations.

DBA President Jose Magaña said California and Florida are erecting obstacles for undocumented immigrants who qualify to practice law. “We want to encourage state legislators to pass legislation that would allow us to practice, and tie this in with overall immigration reform,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Magaña says states should also “promulgate rules” to ensure that people who are qualified and who are in the process of adjusting their legal status can practice law. “This is a fundamental question of fairness,” Magaña states in the press release.

A 2012 graduate of Baylor Law School, Magaña has applied for a license to practice in Maryland, and has been granted deferred-action status under President Obama’s program that delays deportation for young adults who meet specific criteria. Now 26, Magaña has been living in this country for the past 24 years.

Magaña says the group will seek a meeting with Obama to ask his administration to “file briefs on behalf of undocumented attorneys” when licensing cases end up in court. He and others predict that licensing issues will multiply as undocumented immigrant young people who have sought higher education attempt the final step to practicing.

California’s Committee of Bar Examiners found that Garcia met all requirements for a law license and submitted his name to the state’s high court in November 2011. The Committee made a note of Garcia’s immigration status, according to court briefs. The Court then indicated that various policy issues needed consideration.

In August, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief, arguing that a 1996 federal law prohibits California from granting Garcia a law license unless the state enacts legislation for this purpose.

On Sept. 6, the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California responded to DOJ, arguing that Garcia should be admitted to the state bar and noting “48 organizations and 53 individuals” have filed briefs with the court in support of Garcia’s quest. Supporting briefs came from the California Attorney General’s Office, civil rights organizations and a former justice of the California Supreme Court.

“Issuance of a law license to Mr. Garcia is not a pathway to naturalization…”, the bar examiners argue in the brief. “Rather, it is recognition of the undeniable fact that he has attained the education, demonstrated the knowledge, and evidenced the good moral character necessary for admission to the bar. Mr. Garcia has as much earned that recognition as any other applicant.”

This article was first published in Chico Sol and New America Media.

Leslie Layton is a freelance writer who publishes ChicoSol. Contact her at [email protected]

[Photo courtesy New America Media]

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