People Are Awesome: Trailblazing Undocumented Lawyer Fights for Justice

Posted by Zachary Slobig

Sergio Garcia left the Mexican state of Michoacan for the United States with his parents when he was 17 months old. His family remained in the states until he was nine when they returned to Mexico. Eventually his father returned to work in California and earned his green card. The rest of his family soon rejoined him, including Sergio who had become a top student. He continued to do well in school, working hard in the classroom as well as in the almond fields he helped maintain with his father. Sergio's own green card application languished in the system for 18 years leaving him undocumented and unable to work legally.

Sergio found work in a grocery store, freeing up some of his time to take classes at the local community college and after some dozen years, he earned his bachelor's at Cal State Chico. Sergio wasn't done with schooling though. His teenage years in Mexico left him wanting to work to reshape a dysfunctional justice system.

"When somebody got busted for any reasons in my town back in Mexico and they didn't have money to bribe the police, they had to stay in jail," he told the Los Angeles Times. "They didn't have any rights. They didn't know how to represent themselves. There was no justice."

He took night classes at Cal Northern School of Law. He tackled the bar exam, passed on his first try, and was sworn in on the steps of the courthouse in Chico California. His legal career turned out to be short lived though. While he's working as a beekeeper with his father, the California Supreme Court is weighing whether he has the right to be licensed to practice law. Meanwhile the legal community is watching this decision closely, making Garcia's case a potential precedent-setter in a state that holds considerable influence on other state courts. 

Some find the notion of an undocumented immigrant practicing law offensive. "No one who has shown this guy's level of contempt for American law should be practicing law," William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration told the Sun Sentinel in regards to the similar case of  Jose Godinez-Samperio who is also biding his time while the Florida Supreme Court decides if he should be allowed to practice law. 

Adam Sorrells, a lawyer with whom Sergio Garcia interned in Chico, sees things differently. "Here's a guy that's done everything right," Sorrells told the Los Angeles Times. "He has no criminal record, he's worked all his life; he pays taxes; he treats people with respect and he's nice to people.... When we look at society, at what we ask of our citizens, everything that Sergio has done with his life is what we expect of a good citizen, somebody who deserves to be a lawyer."

Photo via (cc) flickr user Sam Howzit