SACRAMENTO–Both houses of the California State Legislature overwhelmingly approved bills authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) that provide professional opportunities and consumer protections to noncitizens in California while Congress struggles to approve comprehensive immigration reform.
Both Assembly Bills 1024 (Attorneys’ Right to Practice) and 1159 (Immigration Fraud Consumer Protections) are headed to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown for signature after winning large bipartisan approval in the last few hours of legislative session on Thursday evening.
“San Diego County and the rest of California has waited on Congress to fix our broken federal immigration laws, but we can’t wait any longer to improve the lives of people who are falling through the cracks because of that inaction,” Gonzalez said. “Instead, these bills are part of a package of reforms my State Capitol colleagues and I crafted to protect, empower and improve the quality of life for our friends, neighbors and family members who are forced to suffer under the status quo.”
On bipartisan votes in both the Assembly and Senate, AB 1024 was approved in an effort to permit the California State Supreme Court to admit as an attorney any applicant that has passed the State Bar examination and fulfilled all other requirements.
AB 1024 is a direct response to a case currently pending at the California State Supreme Court. Recently, the Court heard testimony in the case In Re Sergio C. Garcia on Admission (S202512), which concerned Mr. Garcia’s petition to obtain a law license in California. Having passed the State Bar examination and fulfilled all other requirements, Mr. Garcia was routinely sworn into the legal profession in 2011. Two weeks later his license was rescinded on the basis that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act passed by Congress in 1996 prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving professional licenses with the use of public funds, unless state law explicitly overrides it.
“AB 1024 completes the promise we’ve made to DREAMers who have worked hard, studied hard, passed the Bar exam and now just want the right to make a living for themselves as an attorney,” Gonzalez said.
AB 1159 would require that lawyers and consultants performing services under the pending federal immigration reform act abide by common sense business practices that will protect more than 2.5 million potentially eligible Californians from the unauthorized practice of law by non-lawyers, fraud, and unnecessary mistakes that could jeopardize a client’s pursuit of citizenship or – worse – result in deportation. The bill received unanimous support in both the Assembly and the Senate on Thursday.
“As millions of California families face the historic opportunity of improving their lives by pursuing a pathway to citizenship, the state must be ready to ensure immigration services are performed by competent professionals and include anti-fraud protections,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “AB 1159 prepares California for this upswing in demand by creating more accountability and transparency in an otherwise daunting process for immigrants, who are already targets of fraud now.”
Assemblywoman Gonzalez has asked that the Legislature act in order to crack down on the unscrupulous practice by some professionals to demand payment for immigration reform services based by promising that clients could “cut to the front of the line” when federal immigration reform is eventually enacted by paying now. AB 1159 would prohibit those advanced payments. The bill also increases the bonding requirements for non-attorneys performing immigration reform services and requires that contracts for immigration reform services include a disclaimer about how to report immigration fraud to the State Bar or Attorney General in the language of the client receiving the services.
Expands current law to apply to “anyone who is not an attorney” from advertising as a “notario,” not just notaries public. This ban prevents confusion that has oftentimes been capitalized upon by non-attorneys hoping to present themselves as attorneys, as a “notario” in many Latin American nations is a type of lawyer.