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Mr. Garcia’s case is different from that of Mr. Vargas or Mr. Godinez-Samperio, the Florida applicant. Both of them were able to get tentative legal status and work permits under Mr. Obama’s non-deportation policy for younger illegal immigrants.

But Mr. Garcia is too old to qualify.

He was first brought to the U.S., illegally, by his parents at 17 months. They lived in California until he was 9, when the family returned to Mexico, then came back to California when he was 17, when he again entered illegally.

His father obtained legal residency, however, and Mr. Garcia is awaiting a visa number for his own legal status.

“He has resided in California continually since that time — for more than 19 years — and has gone to college, completed law school, and has successfully passed the bar examination in California,” Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wrote. “He has been a diligent and trusted worker and has made significant contributions to his community. He has never been convicted of a criminal offense.”

The court did say that Mr. Garcia lied to a grocery store where he applied for employment soon after he returned to the U.S., claiming he had legal status. He also was cited for driving without a license, paid the fine, then went to obtain a license from Oregon, which did not check applicants’ immigration status.

But overall, the justices said Mr. Garcia showed “good moral character” and pointed to numerous recommendations from teachers and associates.

Immigrant rights groups praised the decision and said they hoped it was the first bit of good news in a year when they want Congress to pass a broad bill legalizing most illegal immigrants.

“This is a bright new day in California history and bodes well for the future of the United States of America,” said the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “We start 2014 with high hopes that soon justice will also be a reality for millions of undocumented immigrant workers who give it their all for the sustenance of their children, the strength of their families, and the vitality of an immigrant nation.”