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Chico State

DACA, Dreamers and Immigration: The Expert Explains

Sergio Garcia leans on a counter, which holds a statue of blindfolded "Lady Justice," in front of a sign reading SCG.
Photos by Jessica Bartlett / University Photographer

Sergio Garcia Immigration Lawyer Photographed on Friday, March 16, 2018 in Chico, Calif. (Jessica Bartlett/University Photographer)

Sergio C. Garcia (Attended, 2004) made national news in 2014 when the California Supreme Court granted him a license to practice law, making him the first undocumented immigrant in California with that distinction. Mexican-born in 1977 but brought to California at 17 months old, his naturalized father applied for Sergio’s green card in 1994. In 2015, 21 years later and at age 38, Garcia’s application was processed and accepted.

Growing up in Durham working odd jobs to support himself and his family, Garcia began his legal studies while living undocumented. One of those jobs, as a grocer in a now-defunct Durham grocery store, opened his eyes to much of his community’s perception toward immigrants, documented or otherwise.

“One night after a long day,” Sergio recalled, “I locked up the store and in the parking lot were two coworkers, having some beers in the parking lot, and one of them yelled to me: ‘What does it feel like to be a man without a country? You’re too Mexican to be an American, but you’re still here.'”

“All I could say was, ‘I don’t know what you mean. I’m just Sergio.’ I had been working so hard and trying to do the right things. I took a lot of pride in my work ethic,” Garcia said. “But I have to admit even now, that it really hurt me that that’s all they could think of me.”

He earned two associate’s degrees at Butte College, got his paralegal certificate from Chico State, and in 2009, received his doctorate from Cal Northern School of Law and passed the California Bar Examination.

Sergio Garcia poses for a mug shot.
Sergio Garcia is California’s first undocumented immigrant to be granted license to practice law by the state Supreme Court.

Now heading his own legal firm, Garcia specializes in immigration law, providing expertise borne of professional study and his personal experience. Much of the national debate about immigration, he has found, stems from these common myths about the process.

Myth: DACA and “Dreamers” are the same thing.

Reality: “DACA refers to people who qualify for a program—they were brought here before 16, don’t have a criminal background, finished high school or were in the process, and were in the States before June 15, 2007.

Dreamers are a larger group that includes DACA, basically undocumented kids and teenagers brought here without legal status.

Some Dreamers might not qualify for DACA. But a lot of Dreamers who might qualify for DACA won’t even apply, because they’re scared to reveal they’re undocumented.”

Myth: DACA provides a path to citizenship.

Reality: “That’s a misconception. It’s just not true. Deferred Action [for Childhood Arrivals] never had a path, not even to legal permanent residence. It’s just a temporary program, renewed every two years.

It’s possible a DACA recipient could adjust their status, but it doesn’t do anything for the process. You still need someone who can sponsor you. A family member sponsoring you is what they are starting to call ‘chain migration’ now. But the fact is, you need a legal-status family member or citizen to apply for you, even if you have DACA, if you want to adjust your status.”


Myth: Undocumented people should just become citizens.

Reality: “People willing to learn about the process realize it’s not as simple as they might want to imagine. Everybody wants to live here lawfully and pursue the American dream without having to look over their shoulder constantly. And I get it. I didn’t enjoy being undocumented at all. I’m proud of the fact that I became successful in spite of the obstacles. It was never for lack of wanting to adjust my status.

Sergio Garcia folds his arms for a photo.
A lifetime of experience as an undocumented immigrant, plus years of immigration law education and practice, have uniquely equipped Sergio Garcia to serve the immigrant community in California.

When people ask, ‘Why do you live here illegally?’—it’s because the other option is waiting 20 years. People don’t fail to adjust their status out of disrespect to this country. More commonly, many don’t apply because it’s not as simple as getting in a line and taking a number.

The cost of applying to adjust your status, including attorney’s fees, is around $8,000, maybe more. If you try to adjust your status having been here without documentation less than a year, you can still be barred for three years. Over a year, now you’re subject to a 10-year bar.

Essentially, you have to decide between following the law or being with your family. Until you have to make that decision, it’s not fair to pass judgment about it.”

Myth: Immigration laws are clear, so people should just follow them.

Reality: “There is not a lot of consistency with immigration law. The 20-year timeline we’re talking about is only for Mexican or Indian immigrants. If you come here from Europe, you can often get your status adjusted within 6 months to a year. It’s not a consistent timeline or process. It’s set up to favor Europeans vs. people from Mexico or India that have a heavy immigrant volume. And that’s without talking about the laws of the country people are coming from. The whole system really needs to be streamlined.”


Related reading: As a turbulent national attitude on immigration leaves Dreamers anxious and uncertain, four undocumented Chico State students share what is at stake.