The number of jokes and stories about amoral attorneys and dishonest lawyers could fill a library. Most of these tales, however, illustrate the moral hypocrisy of a profession which claims to uphold the law but often has members which disregard and disrespect the system they say they support.
Sergio Garcia adds a fresh tome to this library of antics. Garcia is applying for a license to practice law in California. He obtained a JD (juris doctorate – a law school degree) and passed the bar exam. There’s just one small problem: Garcia isn’t suppose to be in California or the rest of the United States for that matter. Sergio Garcia is an illegal immigrant who was brought to this nation as a toddler. After leaving for a few years, he returned as a seventeen year old and attended college while working as a beekeeper with his father. Now the California Supreme Court has to decide if Garcia’s citizenship status, or lack thereof, is a deterrent to practicing law in California.
The California Bar Association (CBA) asserts that Garcia has met all requirements to receive a license to practice law in California, including passing the bar exam and the moral character test. Although Garcia is an illegal immigrant, plenty of foreign students are given licenses to practice, but those licenses are not a permit for employment. The license given to Garcia, without the citizenship status, would only allow him to work pro bono, for free as community service, or as an independent contractor.
Groups opposing the case, however, state that Garcia has already broken the law by staying here illegally. The “moral character” test he supposedly passed states that he must have respect for the law. Although seventeen year olds are still considered minors, most courts will recognize that persons of that age have the ability to recognize right from wrong. Garcia, when he illegally came back to the United States at seventeen, knowingly violated the law and has done so for years. He cannot, in good conscience, serve the legal system of this nation when he himself has and is currently violating the law.
The reason this case is considered a precedent for the future is that it questions if a student here illegally can get a license. The foreign students who were admitted are documented and have their paperwork approved. The real injustice, opposition groups would conclude, is that a certain class of people are exempt from the law because of their place of origin is in close proximity to America.
In Garcia’s defense, his application for a green card has been pending for the last eighteen years, a wait period impossibly long for any sane individual. This doesn’t excuse his rule breaking, but the application does show intent to try to comply with the complex immigration laws. Perhaps it was this intent which allowed Garcia to pass the moral character test. Garcia did pass the current moral character test, even if outside observers would demand a higher standard for the test. There are also no residency or citizenship requirements for obtaining a license. The fact is, although Garcia shouldn’t be in California and should probably be deported, he can obtain the license to practice law in the state. It is astoundingly counter-intuitive and a huge paradox, but stranger contradictions have been made in our legal system.
The real offender in this entire debacle, however, is the California Bar Association, which is strongly arguing for Garcia’s admittance. There is a substantial difference between grudgingly giving a license out based on the requirements met and zealously advocating for the admittance of a man who has broken the law. Opponents of Garcia’s admittance believe that illegal immigrants are above the law and this latest case is a plank in their platform. Some applicants to the bar are turned down because of extreme debt or bankruptcy. Other applicants are rejected for having a history of criminal felony charges, even if the entirety of that history was committed as a minor and/or non-violent, such as through California’s Three Strikes law. It would be difficult to judge the accumulation of debt, a non-violent felony history or a status as an illegal immigrant and declare that one deprives a person of moral character more than the other.
The CBA is permitted to determine what exactly a moral character is, but all these examples, non-violent felony history, extreme debt and illegal immigration status, represent the violation of a social obligation. With the former two, it is possible to get a license, but it is doubtful that the CBA would help the applicants if the application is reviewed by a court. The CBA however, is advocating for Garcia and his illegal immigrant status. Garcia may be a paradox in the American legal system, but that paradox wouldn’t have risen if the California Bar Association hadn’t entertained the idea in the beginning.