SAN FRANCISCO -- The National Center for Lesbian Rights on Wednesday filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of itself and Lambda Legal urging the California Supreme Court to grant the application of a California law school graduate who is also an undocumented immigrant to become a licensed attorney in California.
The brief was filed in support of Sergio C. Garcia’s application to become a member of the State Bar of California. The Board of Examiners of the California State Bar has already determined that Mr. Garcia is qualified and should be admitted to the State Bar.
Garcia was born in 1977 and brought to the United States by his parents when he was just 17 months old. His family applied for an immigrant visa on his behalf in 1994, and he has been waiting in an undocumented status for nearly 18 years for the visa to become available.
Garcia went to college and law school and passed the California bar examination. The Committee of Bar Examiners concluded that he had met all the requirements for admission as a licensed attorney and recommended that the California Supreme Court, which controls attorney licensing in the state, admit him to practice before the California courts.
Because it had not previously considered whether an undocumented person may be admitted as an attorney, the California Supreme Court requested briefing concerning whether federal or state law prohibits Garcia from obtaining a license to practice law. Both Garcia and the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California filed briefs urging the Court to admit Garcia, citing the Court’s 1973 decision permitting legal residents who are not United States citizens to become licensed attorneys in California.
"The California Supreme Court should affirm the State Bar’s determination that Mr. Garcia should be licensed to practice law," said Shannon Minter, NCLR legal director. "Being undocumented has no more bearing on a person’s moral character or fitness to be a lawyer than a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Penalizing qualified individuals who are a vital part of our society and want nothing more than to contribute to California’s progress is discriminatory, short-sighted, and wrong. We salute Mr. Garcia for his willingness to be the public face of this issue and for showing such great courage and perseverance."
Shelbi Day, staff attorney at Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles, said discrimination should not disqualify Garcia.
"Bias is bias. Reasons formerly used to exclude LGBT people from practicing law and pursuing other professions that have since been discredited and renounced should not be a basis for discriminating against immigrants like Mr. Garcia," Day said.
The brief filed by NCLR and Lambda Legal focuses on the historical similarities between Garcia’s case and the denial of professional licenses to LGBT people.
The brief observes that the past denial of bar membership and other professional licenses to LGBT individuals was rooted in biases and stereotypes that are similar in many ways to attitudes faced by undocumented people today, such as the idea that individuals in both groups are criminals or do not share the same moral values as other Americans.
The brief argues that just as these rationales for denying professional licenses to LGBT people are no longer accepted today, the Supreme Court should reject any such arguments for preventing an undocumented person from obtaining a law license.