NEW YORK – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiary Cesar Vargas is now officially a New York State attorney.
Vargas, 31, became the Empire State’s first undocumented immigrant to gain a law license after an appeals court Wednesday found “no legal impediment or rational basis for withholding the privilege of practicing law in the state of New York from undocumented immigrants who have been granted DACA relief,” the Associated Press reports.
President Obama’s DACA program grants work status and defers deportation for illegal immigrants who were smuggled into the United States as children. Vargas’ mother brought him here when he was 5 years old. He since attended the City University of New York and gained a law degree in 2011 before passing the bar on his first attempt in 2012, The Huffington Post reports.
“The first person I called was my mom, and I said, ‘We did it. Your son’s going to be a lawyer,'” Vargas told the Post.
“As a lawyer, I’m going to have more power to help people to confront and fix broken legal systems that our community faces every day,” he said.
Vargas currently runs the Dream Action Coalition, an immigration reform lobbying group he founded during the three years it took to press his case for a law license. He told the Post he now plans to start his own law firm.
He sent out an explicative-laced tweet to his followers yesterday.
“NY, my home, OFFICIALLY says I can be a licensed lawyer! I’m going to f****** finally be an admitted lawyer!” Vargas posted.
NY, my home, OFFICIALLY says I can be a licensed lawyer! I'm going to fucking finally be an admitted lawyer!!!!
— Cesar Vargas (@DREAMerJ_D) June 3, 2015
Jose Perez, a lawyer for LatinoJustice PRLDEF represented Vargas, and said the court’s decision is “a major advance in immigrants’ rights” that “pushes the door wide open for other states,” the AP reports.
Specifically, the court wrote: “We find that the undocumented status of an individual applicant does not, alone, suggest that the applicant is not possessed of the qualities that enable attorneys to vigorously defend their client’s interests within the bounds of the law, nor does I suggest that the applicant cannot protect, as an officer of the court, the rule of law and the administration of justice.”
According to the Post:
Federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits, including professional licenses, unless state legislatures make specific exceptions. …
The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing applicant Sergio Garcia to become a licensed lawyer last year. In that case, state lawmakers passed legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses to practice law to avoid conflict with the Justice Department.
In Florida, the state Supreme Court ruled last year that federal law prohibited undocumented applicant Jose Godinez-Samperio from joining the bar, but that the state legislature could change that by carving out an exception. State legislators did not pass such a law.
According to the NYU “Dream Team” website, Vargas is “a nationally recognized leader and innovator at the forefront of the DREAM Act movement.”
“From Brooklyn to Washington, D.C. he has been actively involved in the fight for the DREAM Act, as one of the leading advocates during the 2010 lame duck session to push for the DREAM Act, and the original drafter and advocate for the 2012 New York State Dream Act,” according to the site.