Conservative Media Ignore Facts In Their Outrage Over Undocumented Lawyer


Conservative media ignored several relevant facts to attack a California Supreme Court ruling that a qualified undocumented immigrant cannot be denied a law license simply for being in the country illegally, including that undocumented immigrants can legally practice law in California and that the broken immigration system is largely to blame for Sergio Garcia's unlawful status.

CA Supreme Court Rules Undocumented Immigrant Can Obtain Law License

California Supreme Court: Immigrant's Unlawful Status Is Not Sufficient Or Persuasive Ground To Deny Him Law License. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the California Supreme Court ruled on January 2 that an undocumented immigrant who passed the California state bar may be licensed as a lawyer:

In an opinion by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the state's high court said a law passed late last year by the Legislature enabled the court to admit Sergio C. Garcia, 36, to the legal profession.


"We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant's presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the State Bar," the chief justice wrote.

The court said Garcia, who has been in the U.S. most of his life, will be able to practice law free of charge or outside the U.S. It is disputed, however, whether he could legally work for himself as an independent contractor and charge fees, the court said.

"We assume that a licensed undocumented immigrant will make all necessary inquiries and take appropriate steps to comply with applicable legal restrictions and will advise potential clients of any possible adverse or limiting effect the attorney's immigration status may pose," the court said. [Los Angeles Times, 1/2/14; The Supreme Court Of California, 1/2/14]

Conservative Media Ignore The Facts In Criticizing CA State Decision

Rush Limbaugh: "This Is How You Water Down Borders, How You Water Down Standards." Discussing the Supreme Court decision on his radio show, Rush Limbaugh stated:

LIMBAUGH: If it's now OK for an illegal alien to practice law in California, then can anybody else who's broken the law get a law license? If not, why not? Why are they going to be discriminated against? What if Frank the felon decides that he wants to become a lawyer and cites Sergio Garcia here? Well, Sergio may not be a felon; he's just an illegal alien and so forth. But folks, this is how you water down borders, you water down standards, you water down every line of separation. Sometimes they're needed. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 1/2/14]

Fox Host Greta Van Susteren: "Be A Law Violator Too. That's Some Message To Send Young People." On her Fox News show, host Greta Van Susteren included Garcia in her "Off the Record" message about bad role models. After referring to a recent poll showing that 54 percent of Americans think the United States is in a downward spiral, Van Susteren stated: "Many wonder why some young people feel uninspired and are even reckless about responsibility. Well, have you ever stopped to think about the message we send them? And in particular, the message from role models." She then cited Garcia as an example, claiming the message he sent to young people was that it's OK to be a law violator. Van Susteren followed with Florida Republican Rep. Trey Radel, who was sentenced to a year's probation after pleading guilty to cocaine possession charges. [Fox News, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, 1/3/14]

Fox News Guest Regina Tsombanakis: "How Come He Couldn't Become A Citizen In The Two Decades He Was Here?" During a Fox News Happening Now segment on the California decision, guest Regina Tsombanakis, a trial attorney and frequent media commentator on legal issues, argued against the decision, saying: "How come he couldn't become a citizen in the two decades he was here? Why? I mean, you can't have an illegal alien, as somebody undocumented, who committed a crime to come here and never fix that. And now he wants to dispense law advice? Seriously? That's what we're doing? It should not be allowed." Tsombanakis added: "I got a green card. I came from Canada. It doesn't take 20 years. I got a green card and I became a citizen and I became a lawyer. How come I can do it and this guy can't do it? Why? It's ridiculous." [Fox News, Happening Now, 1/3/14]

Hot Air: "Are There No Police Officers Left On The Job? Are The ICE Offices Completely Empty?" A post about the decision on the conservative Hot Air blog suggested that it would be easy for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport Garcia since he "is showing up at major, televised court appearances and doing interviews on CNN" and "we know where he is":

Look... I get that there are plenty of people with opposing views on so called "comprehensive immigration reform" and the idea of loosening up the borders. I also understand that there are people who rightly claim that we can't simply find, round up, detain and deport more than 20 million people in a rapid, reasonable manner with the resources we have available. But give me a break here, media... surely we can catch THIS GUY.

Are there no police officers left on the job? Are the ICE offices completely empty? (Some of you will probably blame sequestration.) But cut us a break. Garcia is showing up at major, televised court appearances and doing interviews on CNN. I think we know where he is. And he's here illegally by his own admission. Who has the responsibility to show up and inform him that he needs to go for a quick ride and get out of the country? [Hot Air, 1/4/13]

Under California Law, Qualified Undocumented Immigrants May Now Obtain Law Licenses

California Passed A Law In October 2013 Allowing Qualified Applicants, Regardless Of Status, To Become Attorneys. As The New York Times noted, California "paved the way for Mr. Garcia's admission to the bar in October when the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill saying qualified applicants could be admitted to the state bar regardless of their immigration status." The article continued:

The court went on to suggest that immigration status should not be considered any differently from, say, race or religion.

"We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant's presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the state bar," Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote in her opinion. "The fact that an undocumented immigrant is present in the United States without lawful authorization does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness so as to justify exclusion from the state bar." [The New York Times, 1/2/14]

CA Law Addressed 1996 Federal Law Prohibiting State And Local Agencies From Granting Professional Licenses To Unlawful Immigrants. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

After attending college and law school, he passed the bar exam on his first try in 2009. But the state's high court, which oversees lawyer licensing, withheld approval while it considered Garcia's immigration status and opposition from the Obama administration.

The U.S. Justice Department argued that Garcia's application was barred by a 1996 federal law prohibiting state and local agencies from granting any "public benefit," including professional licenses, to immigrants who lack legal status.

But that law exempts states that specifically allow immigrants lacking documentation to become attorneys. With barely a week left in this year's session, both legislative houses overwhelmingly passed such a law, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it.

The administration then withdrew its objections. Some individual attorneys asked the court to reject Garcia, arguing that he could not comply with an attorney's oath to obey the Constitution. The justices disagreed, noting that illegal immigration is not a crime.

In investigating whether Garcia was "morally fit" to be a lawyer after he passed the bar, the court noted, the State Bar found that Garcia was "a well-respected, hard-working, taxpaying individual who has assisted many others and whose application is supported by many members of the community." [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/2/14]

CA Supreme Court Stated That Under California Law, A Qualified Applicant Could Not Be Denied A Law License. In its ruling on the Garcia case, the California Supreme Court cited the October 2013 law as the reason it could not deny Garcia his law license despite his undocumented status:

Very shortly after we held oral argument in this matter, the California Legislature enacted a statute that was intended to satisfy this aspect of section 1621 and the Governor signed that legislation into law. The new legislation became effective on January 1, 2014.

In light of the recently enacted state legislation, we conclude that the Committee's motion to admit Garcia to the State Bar should be granted. The new legislation removes any potential statutory obstacle to Garcia's admission posed by section 1621, and there is no other federal statute that purports to preclude a state from granting a license to practice law to an undocumented immigrant. The new statute also reflects that the Legislature and the Governor have concluded that the admission of an undocumented immigrant who has met all the qualifications for admission to the State Bar is fully consistent with this state's public policy, and, as this opinion explains, we find no basis to disagree with that conclusion.

Finally, we agree with the Committee's determination that Garcia possesses the requisite good moral character to warrant admission to the State Bar and, pursuant to our constitutional authority, grant the Committee's motion to admit Garcia to the State Bar. [The Supreme Court Of California, 1/2/14]

NY Times: "Mr. Garcia Had Met Every Other Requirement To Become A Licensed Lawyer." In an article discussing Garcia's case and how California is finding ways to integrate undocumented immigrants into public life, such as allowing them to apply for driver's licenses, The New York Times noted that the only obstacle to Garcia becoming an attorney was his unlawful status, writing: "Mr. Garcia had met every other requirement to become a licensed lawyer." From the article:

Early this month, the State Supreme Court suggested during a hearing that lawmakers could create a law to address the case of Sergio Garcia, who was brought to the United States illegally as a child. Mr. Garcia had met every other requirement to become a licensed lawyer. Within days, legislation was approved to allow immigrants who were brought here illegally as minors to obtain law licenses, with just three opposing votes. [The New York Times, 9/21/13]

Garcia's Unlawful Status Is Largely A Result Of Broken Federal Immigration System 

NBC News: "Garcia Has Waited More Than Half His Life To Get Legal Residency In The U.S." In an article on the case, NBC News reported that Garcia's father, then a permanent resident, sponsored Garcia to receive residency when he was in his teens and that the application was approved in 1995 when he was 17:

Garcia has waited more than half his life to get legal residency in the U.S.: his dad, a naturalized citizen from Mexico, sponsored him, and he was approved to begin the naturalization process in 1995 at age 17. But due to the backlog of applications, his visa had not been granted, and, according to the California Supreme Court, a visa "may not become available for many years."

But since his dad didn't become a citizen until after Garcia turned 21, Garcia was put in the decades-long line for a green card for adult children of U.S. citizens. He is slated to get his green card in 2019. [NBC News, 1/2/14]

CA Supreme Court: "Because The Current Backlog Of Persons Of Mexican Origin Who Are Seeking Immigrant Visas Is So Large," Garcia Is Still Waiting. In its ruling on Garcia's case, the Supreme Court touched on the facts of his immigration status, noting that Garcia has been waiting more than 19 years for a visa because he is from Mexico:

Under federal immigration law, the visa petition provides Garcia with a basis to apply for adjustment of his immigration status to that of a lawful permanent resident when an immigrant visa number becomes available. Under current provisions of federal immigration law, however, the number of available immigrant visas that may be issued each year is limited and is based upon an applicant's country of origin. Because the current backlog of persons of Mexican origin who are seeking immigrant visas is so large, as of the date of this opinion -- more than 19 years after Garcia's visa petition was filed -- a visa number still has not become available for Garcia. [The Supreme Court of California, 1/2/14]

As Of November 2013, There Were 1.3 Million Mexican Nationals Waiting On Immigrant Visas. According to data from the U.S. State Department, Mexico remained the country with the highest number of people waiting for the issuance of a visa as of November 2013. Out of the 4.3 million people waiting on visas, 1.3 million are from Mexico. That 1.3 million number includes more than 95,000 unmarried sons and daughters (those over 21) of U.S. citizens, about 93,500 spouses and children, and more than 195,000 unmarried sons and daughters (over 21) of permanent residents. [U.S. State Department, November 2013]

Wash. Post: "How Long Is The Immigration 'Line'? As Long As 24 Years." In an article dismantling the popular right-wing mantra that undocumented immigrants need to "get in the back of the line," The Washington Post noted that "there's no one line" and that there "are many lines with wait times that vary wildly depending on the type of green card that a prospective immigrant is applying for, the number of visas available and his or her country of origin." The article continued:

For those applying for work visas because of their "extraordinary ability," including high-ranking professors and international business executives, there is virtually no wait time. By contrast, a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen from the Philippines applying for a family-sponsored visas may have been waiting 24 years, as those visas have been oversubscribed, according to the State Department's latest figures. (The wait times don't advance by one month every month, however, and the actual time in line often ends up being longer, explains Dan Kowalski, a Texas-based immigration lawyer.)

It also included this graphic:

[The Washington Post, 1/31/13]

Posted In
Immigration, Justice & Civil Liberties
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