An Immigrant's Success Shows Congress' Failure

A case in California shows just how broken the immigration system really is.

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File - In this Aug. 27, 2013 file photo, Sergio Garcia speaks at The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles news conference in Los Angeles. The California Supreme Court granted a law license on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, to Garcia, who is living in the United States illegally. Garcia, who graduated from law school and passed the state bar exam, can begin practicing law despite his immigration status. He arrived in the U.S. illegally 20 years ago to pick almonds with his father.

Sergio Garcia's story should be a tale of immigrant success. Instead, it is a story of congressional failure.

Garcia, a Californian born in Mexico, arrived in the U.S. when he was 17 months old, a decision that was presumably out of his little hands. He went back to Mexico when he was nine, and re-entered (without the proper documentation) when he was 17. His father was an agricultural worker and a U.S. citizen, and applied for a green card for his son in 1994. Sergio Garcia's petition was accepted in 1995, but he is still waiting for his green card.

Meanwhile, Garcia went to school. He got his undergraduate degree, and then he got his law degree from Cal Northern School of Law in 2009. He passed the bar exam.

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

This is the modern example of an immigrant's dream of America – to come here for social and economic opportunity, work hard, study and become a successful professional. But Garcia is still waiting for legal status because federal law limits visas each year and bases the number on an immigrant's country. Garcia recently was allowed by a court to receive a license to practice law. But this act was a result of California's state legislature passing a law last year allowing such individuals to be admitted to the bar while they are awaiting a green card.

The case brings even more starkly into light the utter, serial failure of the U.S. Congress to pass some kind of immigration reform. There persists, unfortunately, an attitude by immigration reform opponents that somehow authorities can expel everyone from the country who is here illegally (including people brought here as children, and who have never really known any home country other than the U.S.) and put people in a line for entry.

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We're talking about people who are coming here for a better life, much as most of our ancestors did. Yes, people should not be rewarded for breaking the law. But the idea that people will go home and subject themselves to an absurdly arbitrary and slow process for legal entry is terribly unrealistic. They're not camping out, waiting for Springsteen tickets. They're desperate for a better life. Waiting to do immigration reform because it somehow sanctions illegal entries up until now is a grave mistake. And waiting to do immigration reform simply because it's more potent as a campaign issue than as a public policy problem is despicable.

Sergio Garcia has waited two decades to achieve legal status so he can begin his career in law. Maybe he can use his law degree to push Congress.

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