BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- A California Supreme Court ruling in favor of an undocumented immigrant to practice law is being hailed and seen as being inspirational to young undocumented students.
"It makes me so happy," said Paola Fernandez. The Bakersfield resident was brought illegally from Mexico to the United States when she was four years old. Fernandez grew up in Kern County, graduating from Arvin High School and Cal State Bakersfield with a major in philosophy and a minor in pre-law. She wants to be a lawyer. And her path to achieving that may have just been helped by the recent Supreme Court ruling.
In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled that 36-year-old Sergio Garcia of Chico, an undocumented immigrant, should be licensed to practice law. The ruling made on January 2 comes after state legislators passed a bill in 2013 allowing the state bar to admit "an applicant who is not lawfully present in the United States and has fulfilled the requirements for admission to practice law."
"I think that the decision was correct," said Bakersfield immigration attorney Win Eaton. "There is no federal law, no act of Congress that would preclude the state from issuing a license," said Eaton.
Garcia was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was 17 months old then returned to Mexico when he was 9 years-old. Garcia returned to the United States illegally when he was 17 and has been in California ever since. After high school, he graduated from Chico State and then from Cal Northern School of Law in 2009. He passed the state bar exam on his first try in 2009. But because of his legal status, he was not able to get a license to practice law. Until now.
Garcia's story is inspiring to Fernandez who hopes it paves the way for others like her to pursue their education and give back to their community.
"I want to do more for my community, to be fully recognized as an American. I grew up here, this is my home," she said.