Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston.
Sergio Garcia made legal history yesterday. The 36-year old won a case before the California Supreme Court, allowing him to practice law. Garcia passed the California Bar Exam several years ago, but had been unable to get a law license until now. That's because he's undocumented.
Sergio Garcia joins me from his home in Chico, California. So congratulations, this has been a long battle for you. How do you feel?
Sergio Garcia: I feel great, Marco. It's, well, as you mentioned, it has been a long battle. Almost four years going on five, and so I'm very, very relieved now that this is finally over and I can finally achieve one of my two life's dreams, one of which was to become a licensed attorney, and the other hopefully to one day become a US citizen, if we can get this immigration reform going here.
Werman: Tell us your own story, Sergio. I mean, you're originally Mexico, I know that much. When and how did you come to America?
Garcia: Well, basically, my parents brought me over to the United States initially when I was 17 months old. At age 9, my parents decided that I should go back to Mexico for a little bit. I stayed over there until I was 17, and then again my parents brought me over in 1994. Right after getting here, my dad, who's a US citizen, applied for me to get a green card. And even though they were told it would take three to five years, it has taken over 19 years and I still don't have one. You know, in the interim, I went to high school, went to a community college, went to a four year University and ultimately law school. Graduated from law school, took and passed the bar right away. Unfortunately, due to my lack of a green card, I was withheld a law license for the last four, five years. Because this is a case of first impression, the question as to whether an undocumented person can be an attorney had never come up. And so the court had to kind of wrangle with it, and luckily yesterday we saw that California Supreme Court come in with a seven to zero decision in my favor. And so that will allow me to fulfill my dream and finally be able to practice law here in California.
Werman: Well, will it, though? Because I mean, the California Supreme Court said, "Yes, you can do that," but legally, can a law firm actually hire you now?
Garcia: No, no, there's a distinction, you're correct. I cannot work for any law firm, but there's no law that says I cannot open my own, and that's exactly what I intend to do.
Werman: Now, you said something earlier. Your father filed a petition seeking an immigration visa for you, back in '94. I mean, that's, as you said, that's 19 years ago. Is that for real? I mean, have you followed up?
Garcia: Yeah. Well, of course, of course I've followed up. I mean, I'm not in this situation because I enjoy being undocumented. I have followed up with it and it's a matter of public record. The court, if you read the opinion, it shows that I have filed a I130. That was on November 18, 1994, and it was approved on January 15, 1995. It's been pending for 19 years, and at the rate they're going, it's likely to be pending for another five or six.
Werman: There's a strange kind of contradiction here. I mean, immigration law may be in desperate need of reform, but as a lawyer, are you at all uncomfortable with now violating that law?
Garcia: I'm not violating absolutely any law, because I came here as a minor, I applied for a green card right away. It was approved and now it's pending, I'm simply in line to get a green card, therefore I'm not in violation of any law. Being here as an undocumented person is a civil infraction, which subjects you to a fifty dollar fine. I'm more than happy to pay the fine any day. Unfortunately, you know, I'm not being offered that green card, therefore I'm just on standby.
Werman: I mean, it's important to ask this question, Sergio. Why do you feel entitled to live in the US when you don't qualify to live here legally?
Garcia: Well, it's not a feeling of entitlement. Like I said, I paid for an application for a green card, I was approved for a green card, and after that they just told me I have to wait around until one is available. That's exactly what I'm doing.
Werman: So tell me why you chose law. Why of all the professions, law, and what do you want to do with your practice now?
Garcia: Well, I personally don't appreciate injustice, and from a very young age I saw that. And people without money don't get the same justice as people who have money get. So I think you should always get the law you deserve, not the justice you can afford, and therefore that's what I wanna do, and I intend to do my best to help people navigate the legal system and make sure that they get a fair shake.
Werman: Sergio Garcia was granted a license to practice law by the California Supreme Court yesterday. Sergio, congratulations and the best of luck.
Garcia: Thank you so much, Marco. Have a great day.