Sacramento, CA- Earlier this year, an undocumented immigrant and law school graduate from California, Sergio Garcia, was allowed to obtain his law license. Garcia was able to do so because lawmakers in the state passed legislation which allowed the state bar to issue law licenses. Now, new legislation would allow undocumented immigrants to get professional licenses despite their immigration status.
A bill introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would make it easier for immigrants to apply for a professional license in over a dozen occupations including the healthcare fields. S.B 1159 would allow boards across the state to accept tax identification numbers in lieu Social Security numbers when a person applies for a professional license.
If the law passes the state House—it passed the Senate last Thursday-- undocumented immigrants who wish to become healthcare professionals, psychologists, real estate agents, security guards and hairdressers would be able to apply for their license even if they don’t have a Social Security number.
Lara told the Los Angeles Times his bill would make certain, “more Californians have an effective means of economic mobility and self-sufficiency.” Lara added that the proposed legislation is an extension of other state laws that have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and in-state tuition.
Naturally, the Lara’s legislation was heavily criticized by Republicans and groups that advocate for enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.
William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, told the Los Angeles Times that Lara’s law would “both aid and abet illegal immigration, which is a violation of federal law.”
Considering their large immigrant population, California has led on many issues that plague undocumented immigrants. It was one of the first states to allow in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and also gave them the right to access public and private education funds under the California Dream Act.
The state also passed a law last year that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license citing public safety concerns. A 2013 study by the California Department of Transportation found that traffic fatalities in the state would be reduced by 20 percent if undocumented immigrants were able to obtain a driver’s license.
Lawmakers in state also passed the Trust Act which gave thousands of immigrants relief from deportation. The law no longer requires local law enforcement agencies to hold immigrants on an immigration detainer if they are only facing minor charges such as driving without a driver’s license.
According to the Los Angeles Times, there are approximately 1.85 million undocumented immigrants working in the state.
Having undocumented status can present many barriers for an immigrant; they are unable to legally work in the U.S. and they face the constant threat of deportation. Obtaining legal status can be a time-consuming and arduous process but it is not impossible with the representation of an immigration lawyer. Because they have a thorough understanding of federal and state laws, an immigration lawyer can improve an immigrant’s chances of obtaining legal status.