Northern California Record

Friday, November 15, 2019

State's first undocumented attorney continues to live out his childhood dream and help others in the process

By Vimbai Chikomo | Jan 21, 2016

Sergio C. Garcia | Wikipedia

CHICO, Calif. – A California attorney who made American history by successfully fighting for his right to earn a law license continues to uses his struggle and expertise to impact his community.

Sergio C. Garcia’s journey to becoming a licensed attorney was riddled with many highs and lows but ultimately landed Garcia at the place he dreamed about when he was 10.

“Someone once told me that I had an advantage because I have the need to succeed, and that’s going to drive me,” Garcia recalled.

Born in Mexico, Garcia was brought to the United States as a toddler and spent the first nine years of his life in the country, before his parents moved the family back to Mexico. Then, in 1994, when he was 17, Garcia was brought back into the U.S. and spent the next two decades working towards his goal of one day becoming a licensed lawyer and gaining resident status in the U.S.

In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, instructing the State Bar of California to admit Garcia. At the time, the State Bar required all applicants to disclose their citizenship status on the application. A few months later, Garcia also received a green card more than 20 years after applying in 2015.

“After waiting for so long, you think the event is going to be complex. Yet the whole process was simply going in, being asked a few basic questions for a few minutes, and then they thank you for coming in,” Garcia said.

The interview for his green card may have been very straightforward, but the road leading up to that moment was very complicated.

“During the years, I wouldn’t say that I was nervous. I was more anxious than anything to get it, like anyone else who is out of status. I wasn’t enjoying being out of status and not having the ability to get a job or a driver’s license or anything. Going so many years without status became stressful,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he drew strength from his family when he felt like giving up.

“My family, specifically, my mom. Time and time again, hurdle after hurdle, disappointment after disappointment, when I would literally go to her crying and saying, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore, it’s been years of fighting,’ my mom would always remind me that if God didn’t think I could handle it, he wouldn’t let me go through it,” Garcia said.

Garcia’s mother also told him that he had been chosen to go through the struggle for a reason and that when he got his license, he would open the door for a lot of other children in the same situation he was in.

“She was extremely wise and foretelling because that’s exactly what happened. We were able to win my case, and when SB 1159 became law, it opened the door for almost 2 million undocumented professionals in California, allowing them to be licensed,” Garcia said.

Garcia knew from a young age that he wanted to become an attorney. After completing high school and earning two degrees at Butte College, Garcia attended California State University, Chico, where he discovered somewhat of a hidden talent when he authored a self-help book titled “Love, Sex and Romance.”

“The book came out of necessity in a way, but what triggered it was quite simple,” Garcia explained. “I was taking a philosophy class at Chico State, and one day I told my professor that I enjoyed the books but I felt they were basic and I could probably write my own. [My professor] said, ‘Really, I’d love to see that.’”

Garcia then asked his professor if he would edit the book if he wrote it. His professor agreed. A few weeks later, Garcia submitted the first 60 pages to his professor. Surprised that he actually followed through with writing the book, his professor took it and called Garcia to his office after class a few weeks later. Garcia expected a reprimand, but was encouraged by his professor’s words.

“He said, ‘I took the time to read what you wrote and there’s wisdom beyond your years in your writing. I’d like to see you develop this and ultimately publish it,’” Garcia recalled.

Garcia was about 20 years old at the time, and his professor’s words motivated him to keep on writing. His book was published a few weeks before Valentine’s Day of that year.

“I sold it to all my family, neighbors and friends, and ended up getting about $5,000, which is what I needed to get into law school,” Garcia said.

In May 2009, Garcia earned a Juris Doctorate from Cal Northern School of Law. A few months later, he took the California Bar Exam and passed on his first attempt. Garcia, who now runs a private practice in Chico, said he is pleased with the success he’s achieved professionally.

“Things are going great. It’s interesting because everybody assumes that I do immigration law, but I do auto accidents more than anything,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he often hears positive feedback about his work from colleagues who tell him that his practice is one of the busiest in the area.

“People have always described me as a good attorney and I haven’t had the benefit that most people get,” Garcia said.

Garcia explained that most attorneys work for someone else for a few years in order to get mentorship and experience before setting out on their own. But the lack of a safety net proved to be a big motivator for Garcia. Failure was not an option, and little by little he learned how to run a successful practice.

“I didn’t have that luxury because I couldn’t work for anyone. So I’ve had to build my practice from scratch,” Garcia said.

Throughout his presidency, President Barack Obama has been vocal about creating a path for undocumented individuals brought into the country as minors to gain work permits. In June 2012, the Obama administration introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allowed certain minors who entered the country before their 16th birthday, and before June 2007, to be exempt from deportation and eligible for a renewable two-year work permit. Garcia didn't qualify because of his age.

As Garcia’s story spread throughout California and the nation, he decided to invest in the lives of others and help as many people as he could. He is a motivational speaker and has delivered numerous keynote addresses and participated in many panel discussions. In March 2014, Garcia delivered a TEDxTalk called "Fighting for Justice, Changing Lives: Sergio Garcia at TEDxBoyleHeights."

Garcia has also written articles for various publications to inform others of the course of action they too can take to become successful and live the American Dream.

“One other thing I am grateful for is that I was finally able to set up my foundation, and I just received the grades for the first scholarship recipients and they all have straight As,” Garcia said.

The Sergio C. Garcia Foundation grants scholarships to students struggling financially.

“We continue to help others, be it financially or through motivational speaking, or just getting involved with the community,” Garcia concluded.

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