LOS ANGELES— The California Supreme Court cleared the way last week for an undocumented immigrant named Sergio Garcia to be licensed as a lawyer. The ruling comes amid a national debate over illegal immigration, and gives hope to undocumented residents who entered the country as children.
The ruling, made possible by a recent act of the California legislature, means Sergio Garcia can practice law, despite his undocumented status.
Law professor Niels Frenzen of the University of Southern California says the state court ruling is narrow.
“It does not address any other professional licenses. It does not address any other type of government benefits," said Frenzen.
And it does not allow Garcia to work as an employee of a law firm, but Frenzen says he can work for clients as an independent lawyer.
Garcia, now 36, tells VOA's Spanish service that his case has wider relevance.
"My case opens the door for many young people, not just immigrants or the undocumented, who are frustrated with an education system that the government, I think, has abandoned," said Garcia.
For 21-year-old Luis Antezana, the ruling is good news. He came to the United States with his parents at age seven, and realized in high school that he is undocumented.
“Finally, something good. Good things are happening," said Antezana.
Luis is covered under the Obama administration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gave him a work permit and a two-year respite from deportation.
Sergio Garcia was not eligible because he was over age 30, the upper age limit for applicants. The program was announced in June 2012, and by late August of last year, U.S. officials had approved more than 450,000 applications.
But Luis and others like him are barred from getting educational loans insured by the federal government. He received a private scholarship for undocumented students at California State University, Los Angeles. He is active in student government and hopes to become a lawyer to help remedy the problems of the undocumented.
“... all the disparities that happen to a lot of people, and it finally hit me. I said, I have got to do things to change things for myself, for people who in my position, and for future children, not to go through what I am going through," he said.
Law professor Niels Frenzen says the California ruling does not set a precedent.
“But it is certainly a persuasive decision, a decision that other state supreme courts can look to for guidance," he said.
The states of Florida and New York are also considering cases of undocumented law school graduates who hope to be licensed as lawyers, as the nation wrestles with questions surrounding its undocumented residents. Their number is estimated at more than 11 million.