I was born in Villa Jimenez in Michoacan, Mexico, and I knew from a very young age that my life would be a constant uphill battle. We had no electricity or running water, and my family often didn't have enough to eat. However, that never discouraged me. Being poor drove me to work hard day in and day out so I could find a way for our family to get out of chronic poverty. To that end, I studied hard in school and devoted myself to bettering my life.
In 1994, at age 17, I migrated north with my family to the land of opportunity, the United States of America. (This was actually my second time crossing the border: I first arrived as a toddler, but we returned to Mexico when I was nine years old.) A few months after I arrived, I applied for a green card (sponsored by my father, who by then had become a U.S. citizen) with the hope and dream of one day becoming a citizen. I was determined to succeed. I graduated from high school in Durham, from CSU Chico, and from Cal Northern School of Law, and then I passed the California bar exam in 2009 - on my first try. I was excited to start my new career. Little did I know that I had yet to face the biggest fight of my life.
After I passed the bar, a State Bar analyst called to congratulate me on my accomplishment. She then said she'd call me right back. I got that call, plus 15 others over a two-year period, questioning me about whether I was in fact the person I claimed to be, and how someone with my humble beginnings could have passed the bar. I was also asked: How did you finance your education? Do you have a criminal record? Were you honest throughout your schooling? About 18 months into these inquiries, I decided to get a lawyer.
It's ironic: The reason the bar questioned me in the first place was that I had
been honest. When I filled in my personal information for the State Bar of California's application for moral character determination, I listed my citizenship status as "pending." (I've been on the green card wait-list for 17 years.) Eventually the Committee of Bar Examiners decided to throw its support behind me, and a year ago I was certified to become a licensed California attorney.
At that point, like all bar applicants, all I needed in order to practice law was the approval of the California Supreme Court. The court considered my file for five months, and then last May it issued an Order to Show Cause as to why an undocumented immigrant should be given a law license. Of course I complied, with help from my pro bono counsel Lindsay Slatter and Jerome Fishkin. The high court also invited the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney general to weigh in on the issue. I was a bit overwhelmed, but also flattered. When my case started making headlines across the country, however, it got a little surreal.
Attorney General Kamala Harris's office filed an amicus brief in June, stating: "Admitting Garcia to the bar would be consistent with state and federal policy that encourages immigrants, both documented and undocumented, to contribute to society." But the brief filed in August by the U.S. Department of Justice opposed my licensing, setting the stage for a major legal confrontation. Now 17 amicus briefs have been filed, most of them in support of my position. We're awaiting a date for oral argument (In re Sergio C. Garcia on Admission
Though most people would find my situation frustrating, I prefer to focus on the positive. I have full faith and confidence in the great legal system I wish one day to be a part of. This is simply another opportunity to put my patience and perseverance to work.
In the meantime, I'm helping young people fulfill their dreams through "deferred action," the new immigration policy that lets some who came to the United States when they were children stay in this country. I'm helping the ones who meet certain requirements get work permits and driver's licenses. Once my goal of joining the State Bar is realized, I intend to continue helping people through civil litigation.
Sergio Garcia, a graduate of Cal Northern School of Law who lives in Chico, hopes to make his dream come true and help others fulfill their own.