Two big victories for immigrant activists on opposite sides of the coast yesterday.
Cesar Vargas of DRM Action will become New York’s first undocumented immigrant to practice law, following a decision from an appeals court in his favor.
Though he graduated from law school in 2011 and passed the bar exam on his first try the following year, he had been unable to practice law due to his immigration status.
Vargas is a DACA recipient, which allows him to work legally in the United States.
But on Wednesday, “an appellate panel of the State Supreme Court approved his application to the bar, overturning a 2013 decision by a committee that had denied his application based on his immigration status but had asked the court to rule,” according to the Times.
“We find that Mr. Vargas’s undocumented immigration status, in and of itself, does not reflect adversely upon his general fitness to practice law,” the court said. “Mr. Vargas did not enter the United States in violation of the immigration laws of his own volition, but rather came to the United States at the age of 5 at the hand of his mother.”
After graduating from City University of New York Law School, Mr. Vargas passed the New York State bar in 2011. He has interned with a State Supreme Court judge, at the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and with a congressman. He first applied to the bar in 2012.
Since then, unable to practice law, he has turned to advocacy, becoming a national leader in the immigration reform movement. Although Mr. Vargas’s application to the bar was approved, like any lawyer, he still needs final approval from the state bar’s Committee on Character and Fitness, and to record 50 hours of pro bono work.
“We did it. Your son’s going to be a lawyer,” an emotional Vargas told her.
In California, another immigrant lawyer, Sergio Garcia, finally received his green card after applying for permanent residency in 1994 at the age of 17.
Garcia made headlines last year when he became what is believed to be the first undocumented immigrant in the nation to be granted a law license, following a favorable ruling from the California Supreme Court.
“The license was granted after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a specially crafted bill passed by the Legislature to let Garcia practice law,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
Still, even after the legal and legislative victories allowed him to win his license, Garcia had a difficult time practicing his craft.
Even with his law license, Garcia faced obstacles. Without the green card, he couldn’t work for a law firm or partner with other attorneys on cases. Many potential clients were wary of hiring a lawyer who could be arrested and deported.
He said he still gets an occasional threatening email from strangers upset that he is practicing law. He hopes his new immigration status will silence critics.
On Wednesday, [Garcia] won a $25,000 insurance payout for a woman hurt in an auto accident and collected his first payment.
“I’m on a roll,” he said. “My girlfriend and I are going to a steakhouse and I’m ordering a lobster tail.”
Congratulations to Cesar and Sergio on their victories!