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Navarrette: Wrong exception on the undocumented

Why shouldn’t Gov. Jerry Brown sign a bill that would let illegal immigrants obtain law licenses?

Several reasons. It is at least problematic that someone who lives outside the law should be able to practice law. They’d have to take an oath to uphold “the laws of the United States” when they’ve already violated them.

It seems a bridge too far, one that Brown might not be eager to cross. As a graduate of Yale Law School, the governor probably has his own reservations about the concept of undocumented lawyers.

But the most compelling reason for Brown not to sign this bill came to me as I was listening to a conservative radio talk show host explain how, despite his opposition to giving illegal immigrants “amnesty” or any other public benefit or accommodation, he might make an exception in the case of Sergio Garcia.

Having completed law school and passed the bar exam on his first try, Garcia is seeking admission to the California Bar. A few weeks ago, the state Supreme Court held a hearing to decide whether Garcia — who has the backing of state Attorney General Kamala Harris — is eligible for a law license in California. While a decision isn’t expected for a couple of months, most of the judges signaled that they are inclined to agree with the Obama Justice Department. The administration opposes Garcia’s quest for a law license, claiming it is because Congress passed in 1996 a law that prohibits states from providing illegal immigrants with public benefits including professional licenses. But the judges also said that, if the state Legislature wanted to pass a law to give licenses to the undocumented, lawmakers were free to do so.

So the Legislature passed the bill. Now everyone is waiting on Brown.

Garcia is used to waiting. The 36-year-old came to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was 17 months old, later returned to Mexico with his mother when he was 9, and returned when he was 17. Then he applied for citizenship, with the help of his father, who was by then himself a U.S. citizen. That was in 1994, and Garcia is still waiting for a decision from the federal government. But the young man has put his time to good use. He went to college and law school, where he paid tuition by working at a grocery store.

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