Partner Don Tamaki delivered the following remarks for his introduction of State Bar of California CEO Joe Dunn, President of the State Bar Luis Rodriguez, on March 14, 2014, at the annual dinner of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area. AABA presented the State Bar with an award for its role in enabling Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant, be admitted as a lawyer. The State Bar retained Don and Minami Tamaki LLP as counsel in the matter.
Tonight, AABA recognizes the State Bar for its historic stand in recommending to the Court that Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant, be admitted as a lawyer. That set the stage for a case of first impression, unprecedented action by the Legislature–and ultimately–a ground-breaking Supreme Court decision on immigrant rights in California.
Before I introduce State Bar CEO, Joe Dunn, and the President of the Bar, Luis Rodriguez, to accept this recognition, let me frame the issue.
As Asian Americans, we know something about immigration. Most of us in this room are only a generation or two removed from our immigrant ancestors. In fact, many of you are immigrants yourselves. The common denominator is that most of our families arrived here with nothing more than a belief in this country, and a desire to build a new life in America. We are the result.
Was our entry into the United States lawful? Not always. We’d like to think that we came here on the Mayflower, but we know that’s not true. Many of us are descendants of “paper sons or daughters” who bought documentation identifying them—falsely–as children of American citizens, and who studied coaching books with detailed information on their “paper” families in order to pass grueling interrogations at Angel Island. My grandfather skipped Angel Island entirely—he was a stowaway, having paid a cook to hide him in the pantry of a steamer. And when that ship arrived in Eureka, he slipped out of that pantry into the confusion of the dock, and made his way to San Francisco as an undocumented immigrant.
Fast forward to 1977. Sergio Garcia was born in Mexico. When he was a baby, his father, a lawful permanent U.S. resident at the time, brought Sergio into the United States without papers. Subsequently his father became a U.S. citizen and filed a petition for his son to adjust to lawful status. That petition was approved in 1995. Nevertheless, Mr. Garcia has been waiting, in an undocumented status, for the past 18 years for his visa to become available. During this time, he attended high school, college, and law school, and passed the Bar Examination on his first attempt. But for this backlog created by the immigration system, Mr. Garcia would have lawful, documented status today. Worse, it may be many more years before his visa finally issues.
Despite the obvious controversy, the Committee of Bar Examiners and the Board of Trustees took a very principled stand, rooted in the rule of law, concluding that Mr. Garcia’s undocumented status should not disqualify him from becoming an attorney. In making its recommendation, the legal team in the State Bar’s Office of General Counsel, in particular, Rachel Grunberg, Larry Yee, and Rick Zanassi, deserve special recognition. Under the now retired General Counsel, Starr Babcock, they did an enormous amount of work over a 2-year span to analyze the hugely complicated legal issues–not the least of which is a federal statute barring undocumented immigrants from receiving State benefits, including professional licenses, unless the State Legislature passes a law allowing it.
On January 2, 2014, in a case of first impression, the Court unanimously agreed with the State Bar and admitted Mr. Garcia. This important decision was the culmination of the unfaltering resolve of Sergio Garcia,–but also the extraordinary efforts of the State Bar led by State Bar CEO Joe Dunn, and the support of the Legislature which passed in record time a law allowing the Court to admit qualified bar applicants who, notwithstanding their undocumented status, have met all of the requirements.
For the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including many young Americans who were brought here as children—who have known no other country, and who have excelled in grade schools, colleges, and even graduate schools including law schools—the Garcia case is highly significant and addresses–at least in California–one aspect of an otherwise very broken immigration system.
Folks–it is a huge event when an institution as big and as influential as the State Bar of California, together with Sergio Garcia, the Legislature, and a unanimous Supreme Court, take a giant step towards integrating the children of undocumented immigrants–popularly known as “DREAMers”–into the fabric of our society. It gives hope to other aspiring DREAMers, that perhaps they too might one day be a lawyer–or for that matter, a doctor, or a teacher, or any other profession that requires a license.
Therefore, it is my great pleasure to ask that the CEO of the State Bar of California, Joe Dunn, and Luis Rodriguez, the President of the State Bar, accept AABA’s recognition.
Ladies and gentlemen, won’t you join me in welcoming Joe Dunn and Luis Rodriguez to the stage.
Read AABA’s article about the event