Commentary Magazine


The Illegal Lawyer and the Rule of Law

On the surface, the tale of Sergio Garcia’s legal triumph is heart-warming. The native of Mexico worked hard in several jobs and went to college, eventually graduating from Cal Northern School of Law and passed the state’s unusually challenging bar exam on his first try. He should be celebrated as an example of how the American dream still works for immigrants who are willing to follow the same path emigrants from other countries pursued in the past. But because Garcia entered this country illegally, his successful attempt to practice as an attorney illustrates both the dysfunction of the current system of legal immigration as well as how counter-productive some of the efforts of those pushing for change have been.

Garcia is in the news today because the California Supreme Court yesterday upheld a law passed by the state legislature that enabled illegal immigrants to practice law and be admitted by the state bar association. This is in spite of the fact that federal law makes it illegal for any business to hire him because of his immigration status. In effect, what the liberal-dominated legislature and court have done is to attempt to annul a federal law by state fiat. Indeed, the state court went even further, framing the issue in such a manner as to deny that there was, in fact, anything amiss about a person entering this country illegally and then claiming the right to participate as an officer of the court in our legal system:

“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.”

It’s not entirely clear whether Garcia can legally practice on his own and charge clients for his services. Until that is sorted out, he will remain a liberal icon who, according to the New York Times, actually makes a living as an inspirational speaker. But what he and his supporters have also accomplished is to give the large number of Americans who believe our immigration laws should be enforced yet another reason to oppose efforts to reform the system. Rather than work to change a legal structure that is failing, liberals are flouting it, effectively making the anti-immigrant camp’s case that what is at stake in this debate is not policy but the rule of law itself.

Gracia’s difficulties in obtaining legal status bolster the justification for California’s actions to flout U.S. law. Though his parents first brought him to the United States illegally when he was 17 months old, he moved back and forth across the border until coming to stay for good at the age of 17. At that time, he applied for legal status using his father, who had become a legal resident as a sponsor. Unfortunately, that request is still pending 19 years later. That shows how outrageously dysfunctional the system has become. Like millions of other illegals who have also become productive residents of this country Garcia deserves a chance to obtain legal status and get on the path to citizenship. In the absence of progress on that front, California thinks it is justified in defying federal law.

But the notion that California can opt out of federal immigration laws is as absurd as the one that claims Garcia can swear (as he must if he is to become a lawyer) to uphold the laws of the United States even though his actions and presence in this country demonstrate his inability, thanks to the complete breakdown of the federal government’s enforcement of existing immigration statutes, to comply with some of them. Though this is a trick that President Obama and  his Attorney General played with their selective enforcement of federal law, the notion of illegal immigrants being granted privileges as officers of the court turns logic and effective jurisprudence on its head.

Garcia’s tale aptly illustrates the point Senator Marco Rubio has repeatedly made in defense of his efforts to promote immigration reform. In contrast to with any of the proposed plans–such as the bipartisan immigration bill he co-sponsored in the Senate –creating “amnesty” for illegals — the amnesty now in place is a system that has all but collapsed and is one that’s routinely defied by immigrants, employers and a growing number of states and courts.

But the only way to persuade many Americans who are reluctant to take action to resolve the dilemma of millions of illegals currently in the country is to convince them that reform is not synonymous with efforts to supersede existing laws. What California has done in the case of Sergio Garcia is to effectively make the case that the U.S. has no right to control its borders or to determine who may enter the country. Contrary to the decision of the California Supreme Court, those who violate the law via illegal entry are not the moral equivalent of a driver who receives a parking ticket. If the system is to be changed it can only be via a process, such as the one that Rubio backed (and which has little or no chance of passage in the House of Representatives) that would require illegals to pay penalties and go to the back of the line to obtain legal status.

A legal system that countenances an officer of the court whose presence in the country is itself a violation of legal codes is not one likely to inspire respect for the concept of law. Actions such as that of the California legislature and its Supreme Court will only make it harder for immigration reform advocates to ultimately prevail. Rather than hastening the day when his fellow illegals will be granted a path to citizenship, Garcia’s triumph will only strengthen the resolve of those who see immigration reform as an unacceptable attempt to defeat all efforts to secure the border and uphold the rule of law.

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