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New York Allows Undocumented Immigrant to Practice Law

By Peter Clarke, JD on June 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Cesar Vargas came to the U.S. illegally at the age of five. His status as an undocumented immigration didn't stop him from pursuing a career in the law.

Undocumented aliens generally aren't able to obtain professional licenses in the U.S. The Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department reviewed Varaga's case. In the context of Obama's immigration reform policies, the state appeals court granted Varaga admittance to the New York Bar.

How Varga Navigated the System

After graduating law school and passing the New York Bar, Vargas faced removal due to his undocumented status. Applying for deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), he achieved success: his application was approved.

Meanwhile, Vargas faced additional roadblocks by the Department of Homeland Security and the Committee on Character and Fitness. The DHS approved his DACA application, granting him authorization to work in the United States. When he submitted this to the Committee on Character and Fitness, committee rejected his application, requesting that the appeals court make a decision on the matter.

The Court's Favorable Decision

In a 23-page decision, the court determined that "the undocumented status of an individual applicant does not, alone, suggest that the applicant" can't serve as a competent lawyer. The court found Mr. Vargas fully competent and ruled that his undocumented status didn't "reflect adversely" upon his ability to practice law. It was important that Mr. Vargas didn't enter the U.S. illegally by his own will; his mother brought him.

This decision cleared the way for Vargas to be admitted to the New York Bar. Optimistic for the future implications of this decision, he told The New York Times, "This is a precedent I wanted to make." This precedent follows after a similar case in California, which cleared the way for undocumented immigrants to practice law.

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