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Supreme Court will decide on admission of undocumented immigrants in 2014

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

The California Supreme Court has delayed a decision until early next year on whether undocumented immigrants may be licensed as lawyers. Meanwhile, the court asked for input on a new state law in support of the idea.

The court has been mulling whether to admit Sergio C. Garcia, who was born in Mexico and brought to the United States by his parents. Garcia has had an approved application for a visa since 1995, but is still waiting for the visa to be issued. The State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners found in the meantime that Garcia had met all the requirements for a license and recommended his admission.

But the U.S. Department of Justice argued that federal law prohibits Garcia’s admission. It cited the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which bans undocumented immigrants from receiving “public benefits” unless state law directs otherwise.

After the justices indicated at oral argument that their hands may be tied by the federal law, the Latino Caucus introduced state legislation expressly providing that undocumented immigrants are eligible for admission to the bar in California. Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1024 last month, and it goes into effect Jan. 1.

The court asked the parties to file supplemental briefs to address the question of how the new legislation affects the case. The court will also accept amicus briefs until Nov. 15.

The case will be resubmitted Jan. 2, and the court will have 90 days from then to make its decision.

For more information about the case, read the briefs and other filings.