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Undocumented immigrants and professional licenses

The connection between getting a good education and getting a good job is of course a close one. We write about it regularly in this blog, most recently in our August 23 post on financial resources available to immigrant college students under a new Minnesota law.

But what if the job someone seeks requires not only education beyond college, but also a professional license? A current California case poses the troubling prospect that undocumented immigrants who seek such licenses could be turned away.

The California case concerns a man who came to the U.S. as a boy 20 years to pick crops in the fields alongside his father. Eventually, he put himself not only through college but law school. He did this by working at a grocery store and publishing and selling a self-help book.

He also passed the notoriously difficult California bar exam on his first attempt.

But the California Supreme Court has refused to allow the man to have a law license. And without a law license, he does not have authorization to work as a lawyer.

State officials point to a 1996 federal immigration law that prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving certain professional licenses. The extent of the prohibition is unclear. But it appears to apply to licenses issued by government agencies or where public funds are used, unless there has been a vote by the state legislature to the contrary.

This week, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case. It is expected to rule within 90 days.

The case highlights the challenges that undocumented immigrants face under current immigration laws.

Source: The Washington Post, “Immigrant asks California Supreme Court for law license over US DOJ objections,” September 4, 2013

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