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Immigrant without green card asks California top court for law license

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday on whether a Mexican immigrant in the United States without legal permission who graduated from law school and passed the bar should be licensed as a lawyer.

Sergio C. Garcia, 36,  has been trying to get his California law license for fours years. The State Bar of California and Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris support his bid.

But the Obama administration has told the state high court that federal law prohibits giving a license or “public benefit” to “an unlawfully present alien.”

The court is expected to decide Garcia’s fate within 90 days after Wednesday’s hearing.

Garcia immigrated from Mexico with his family when he was 17 months old. He returned to Mexico when he was 9 and reentered the U.S. without authorization when he was 17.

He graduated from Durham High School in Butte County and Cal State Chico and earned his law degree from  Cal Northern School of Law in Chico. He quickly passed the bar, and state examiners found him morally fit to practice law.

Because of his immigration status, the California Supreme Court decided to review his application rather than approve his admission as the bar recommended.

Garcia described himself in an interview Tuesday as “a man with a dream and very good work ethic.”

“The knowledge I have gained, you can’t take that away, though legally I cannot practice law,” he said.

He said he would like to become a civil litigator and hopes to get a book published about his efforts.

Garcia’s father, an agricultural worker who obtained U.S. citizenship, applied for a green card for his son in 1994. The application was approved the next year, but Garcia is still waiting to receive the card.

In the meantime, he has been working as a motivational speaker and an independent contractor.

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Twitter: @mauradolan

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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