License yes, green card no

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The case of Sergio García is a powerful testament to the great potential of immigrants in the United States, but also to the inadequacies of our immigration system.

García made the headlines this week when the California Supreme Court ruled that he can obtain his law license despite not having a green card and residency.

García, 36, is an example of perseverance that is not uncommon among immigrants. He was just 17 months old when his farmworker parents brought him to the U.S. for the first time. When he entered for the last time, at 17, his father had already become a resident (and later a citizen). In 1994, the father requested a green card for his son, who was still a minor. Although the government approved the request, García has spent almost two decades in line, waiting.

In the meanwhile, he finished high school and college in California, and got his law degree in 2009. That same year, he passed the California bar exam. In 2011, the State Bar of California asked the Supreme Court to approve his license, like they do with qualified candidates.

During a hearing last year, the court said it was limited by a 2006 federal law banning the provision of public services to undocumented immigrants, unless the state legislature creates a specific exception. The legislature and the governor acted quickly and approved a law that entered into effect on January 1, one day before the court’s ruling.

Although whether García will be able to set up a practice and charge for his services remains to be seen, his case creates a major legal precedent that could benefit other immigrants who are waiting for their professional licenses in California and other states.

Ironically, García must still wait at least two years for his green card. Like him, there are millions of immigrants in the dreadful waiting list of an immigration system begging to be fixed.