Undocumented Immigrants Can Now Receive Law Licenses In California

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

One hundred days after the Senate approved a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill and on a day that brought out thousands of immigrant activists across 160 cities nationwide, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) signed AB 1024, which allows the California Supreme Court to issue law licenses to individuals, regardless of immigration status.

Brown’s signature means that undocumented immigrants who have passed the California state bar exam can be admitted as attorneys. After signing the bill, Brown said in a statement, “While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead, I’m not waiting.”

The bill’s passage comes as a victory to aspiring lawyers like Sergio Garcia, whose case reached the California Supreme Court last month. Garcia graduated from law school and passed the state bar. But under the 1996 federal immigration law overhaul, he is prohibited from receiving public benefits, like a professional license.

Between Thursday and Saturday, Brown signed seven other immigration-related bills that impacts most of California’s 2.45 million undocumented immigrants. One of the most anticipated bills grants driver’s licenses that bears special marking designated for “driving privilege” rather than “driver’s license.” He had been hesitant to sign such a bill up until three years ago. Still, licensing has been shown to improve public safety on the roads.

And while Brown vetoed the TRUST Act last year, he signed it into law this year. The TRUST Act would limit local law enforcement’s ability to share the immigration status of detained, non-criminal individuals with federal officials.

Yet despite California forging ahead in expanding immigrant rights, undocumented immigrants still would be better served by federal guidance on immigration law. Garcia will most likely apply and receive a law license, but law firms still cannot legally hire him.