LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — The California Supreme Court announced Thursday it will grant a law license to a man living in the United States illegally who graduated from law school and passed the state bar exam.

KNX 1070’s Ron Kilgore reports the decision could have a far-reaching impact for thousands statewide, including Sergio Garcia, who can begin practicing law despite his immigration status.

Garcia, who has waited for his green card for nearly a decade, had challenged a 1996 federal law that bars people living in the country illegally from receiving professional licenses from government agencies or with the use of public funds, unless state lawmakers vote otherwise.

Shortly after the court heard arguments in the case, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state law that authorized the granting of the license. The new law went into effect Jan. 1.

Legal analyst Royal Oakes told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO it remains unclear how the federal government will respond to the ruling.

“Theoretically, they could take steps, but actually, the Obama Administration has done a bit of a change of heart here,” Oakes said.

Government attorneys initially filed a brief against Garcia citing the 1996 law that they argued prohibited Garcia from receiving his license because the court’s budget is funded by public money.

Garcia – who cannot legally vote or serve on a jury – arrived in the U.S. illegally 20 years ago to pick almonds with his father and worked at a grocery store and in the fields while attending school.

KNX 1070’s Tom Reopelle reports local lawmakers have mixed reactions to the high court’s ruling.

“I knew important it was for Sergio Garcia and other ‘Dreamers’ in his position after working so hard at passing the Bar and the moral fitness examination to be able to fulfill their goal,” said San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

But Ira Melman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform said the justices’ decision makes no sense.

“The California Supreme Court went to great lengths to find all kinds of ways to basically undermine the intent of Congress back in 1986, which was to prevent illegal aliens from working in this country,” Melman said.

While similar court cases are pending in other states, California is the first to take action.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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