Sergio C. Garcia worked hard to earn the title of attorney. He worked tirelessly to pass the bar exam, but unfortunately in 2010, the State of California snatched his dream from him for being an undocumented immigrant.
In 2009, he passed the bar exam. He practiced law for two weeks and had 15 spanish speaking clients. However, federal law bans undocumented immigrants from holding an attorney’s license. When the California bar realized his immigration status, they denied his license.
This was not a new experience for Garcia. After graduating high school, Garcia was offered full-ride scholarships to several prestigious universities in 1996. However, much like California would do later, those schools rescinded their offers over his immigration status.
Three years after being admitted to the bar, Garcia now has a successful practice and a green card. Garcia shared his experience of opening his own law practice.
“I built my office from scratch and started renting a very small office. I opened my door like that. In a very, very modest way with 80 percent of the items in my office donated to me,” Garcia said.
Garcia practices personal injury law and has helped many people that could not afford services otherwise. Practicing law was never about the money for Garcia, but about the ability to help others change unfair situations.
“People say you’re so lucky, but it seems the harder I work, the luckier I get. Most people don’t get that,” Garcia said.
Instead of giving up, Garcia pursued his education the best way he could. He worked full time in a grocery store and took as many classes as he could afford at the local community college.
For years, Garcia fought for his right to practice law. In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1024. The bill allows undocumented immigrants to be admitted into the state bar as attorneys. Garcia’s journey to the state bar was one of the inspirations behind the bill. On Feb. 1, 2014, Garcia was officially sworn in as an attorney in front of the State Capitol building in Sacramento.
Garcia’s wife Amairani Garcia has noticed little change in him since being sworn in.
“He is still Sergio, humble, continues helping people, the only change now would be that he can help more people, help our community,” she said. “Now he can pay taxes and now we can concentrate on building our business. We can hire people. We can help students with scholarships.”
Adam Sorrells, a colleague and previous employer of Garcia, has noticed a change in maturity since Garcia was sworn in. Though Sorrells insisted that there was little change in Garcia’s work ethic, compassion and character.
“It’s a typical American story of work hard, stay focused, and strive for your dreams and things will happen,” Sorrells said.
In May of 2015, after two decades of waiting, Garcia received his green card, making him a legal permanent resident holder in the United States. Since Garcia was not able to travel legally for decades, entering the United States after vacationing with his wife is a special privilege for the couple.
“Stepping back into the United States and the federal officer telling me ‘welcome home sir’ is such a huge thing for me,” he said. “It makes me feel welcome for the first time in my life in a country where I’d been threatened, where my life has been threatened.”
For Garcia, finally obtaining a green card was a pivotal moment that allowed him to think about what he wants to accomplish next. He hopes to become a U.S. citizen in order achieve his next goal.
“My new dream is to govern California one day. I would love to run for governor of the state eventually,” Garcia said.