SACRAMENTO--A bill introduced just last week to allow people who are in the country illegally to get law licenses cleared the Legislature on Thursday evening.
The measure, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) and backed by the Latino Caucus, was prompted by the well-publicized case of Sergio Garcia, a man who was brought to the country illegally by his parents when he was a minor and is now seeking to obtain a license to practice law.
The California Supreme Court, in a hearing last week, indicated that federal law may prohibit immigrants who are illegally in the country from obtaining law licenses. The court indicated the Legislature could act to address such cases.
"Let's at least take the step of saying someone who was brought here through no fault of their own and is otherwise qualified to exercise a professional degree is allowed to do so," said Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner (R-Irvine)
Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) said she liked the concept of the bill but worried it was "very, very narrow to this one case." She said the fact Garcia's application for a green card has been pending for 19 years spoke to broader problems in the country's visa system.
Gonzalez, in response, said the bill would have a broader impact, affecting people who, under a law passed in 2004, are able to pay in-state tuition at UC and CSU institutions even though they do not have legal residency.
"By the grace of God, I was born on this side of the border. ...By the grace of God, after passing the bar, I was able to be admitted to the bar," said Gonzalez.
"That's not the same for those same students we promised 10 years ago that if they worked hard and played by the rules, then they would be part of society," she added.
The bill, AB 1024, passed the Assembly with a bipartisan 60-3 vote. It now heads to the governor, as does another immigration measure, which would clamp down on fraud by people providing immigration services.
That bill, AB 1159, is also by Gonzalez. It would put in place a number of consumer protections, including barring attorneys and consultants from accepting money for services related to federal immigration reform before such reform has passed.
"People out there today are accepting payments for people to get into a line that doesn't exist," Gonzalez said.
The measure passed with a unanimous 72-0 vote.