Editor’s Note: Sergio Garcia, the 36-year-old Chico man whose struggle to practice law was the subject of a California Supreme Court hearing earlier this month, inspired a last-minute bill that passed last week in the state legislature. An undocumented immigrant who has wanted to be a lawyer since the age of 10, Garcia writes that the legislation represents the realization of his American dream.
I must have been no older than 10 years old when I dreamt of one day becoming an attorney. That dream has brought me great satisfaction, but also considerable heartache. At that innocent age I was exposed to the horrors of injustice. I saw innocent people being locked up and kept in jail because they were unable to buy their freedom. Justice should never depend on one’s ability to pay for it. It should apply equally to all.
People say it doesn’t cost anything to dream and I am glad it doesn’t because otherwise I would have never been able to afford such a big dream. In 1987 I lived in Mexico with my mother and four younger siblings. Many times we didn’t even have enough money to eat, much less for clothes or shoes. I recall often going to school hungry and embarrassed by my old torn shoes. With all of this poverty you would think I was an unhappy child, but I wasn’t. Money isn’t everything in this world and you don’t miss what you have never had.
It’s hard to believe that 26 years have gone by since the birth of my dream. I no longer struggle for food or shoes. I have grown, but so have my problems. With a great deal of hard work and sacrifice, not only from me but from all of those around me, I managed to realize my dream and finish my education as an attorney. Sadly, given my lack of status I have been prevented from taking the last step towards the achievement of my dream.
Allow me to explain. My father, who is now a U.S. citizen, applied to have my status adjusted, for me to have a green card. This was 19 years ago and I still don’t have one.
Not having a green card has opened a Pandora’s box for me. I have had to fight for my right to be able to one day fight for others. On Sept. 4, 2013, I reached the highest court in the state of California — perhaps something that to most would seem a lofty goal in their law careers, but not to me, since I was there to fight my own case. And given the limited amount of time provided by the court, I was not even able to say a word. I allowed the grown-ups to do the arguing for me: private counsel, the California State Bar attorney and the attorney for our very own state Attorney General.
They fought with courage. However, a fight can only be won if the opposition is open to engage. Here, the court appeared impotent against a federal law that, based on their reaction, they feel ties their hands and prevents them from allowing me to fulfill my dream and issue me a law license. Even though I was discouraged by their response, I did not take it as a total defeat. I took it as an opportunity to help them help me. As soon as I left the courthouse, I reached out to some of my friends in the California legislature. I knew that passing a law that would free the court’s hands to grant me a license was my last hope to fulfill my dream — short of taking my fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Luckily, my friends had been paying attention to my plight and were quick to step in, in defense of the American dream. Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) was quick to assemble the troops and encourage them to pass a favorable law quickly.
Soon all members of the Latino Legislative Caucus had heeded the call to action and had picked Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) to lead the effort. I was ecstatic at their quick response. It made me feel like someone shared my passion for justice. Those who lead by action and not mere words have always been my heroes and it was refreshing to find so many like-minded people all at once.
Once Gonzalez introduced AB 1024 — the bill that could potentially open the door to my dream, and that of many others — my excitement increased exponentially. With less than a week left in this year’s legislative session, the measure was written, debated and passed by the state legislature. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk.
Nothing that is truly worthwhile comes without effort or sacrifice, but I am out to prove that the American dream is still out there for the taking.