DREAMer César Vargas Becomes First DACAmented Lawyer in New York
César Vargas, an immigrant-rights activist and recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, was finally sworn as a lawyer in New York after a lengthy court battle.
On Feb. 3, Vargas was officially sworn in Brooklyn and recognized as the first DACAmented lawyer across New York -- four years after he passed his state bar exam. Vargas, however, initially denied the opportunity to become a lawyer due to his immigration status.
Born in Mexico, Vargas came to the U.S. when he was five years old and eventually worked and graduated from the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law and passed the New York bar exam in 2011. Since 2012, however, Vargas had his bar admission denied since he was an undocumented immigrant. That same year, President Barack Obama announced DACA, a deferred action program offering temporary protections for select immigrant youths. In February 2013, Vargas was approved for DACA, but despite the program, it took a few more years for courts to grant his dream to become a lawyer. Last year, a five-judge panel unanimously ruled in favor of Vargas.
Describing the day as "surreal," Vargas said he can officially tell his mother that he's a lawyer, although she always has said he's already been a lawyer in her eyes regardless of the circumstances.
"We did it. We really accomplished something great because we opened the door to not just the legal profession but for other professions to really aspire to whatever you want to be - your dreams," Vargas told Latin Post.
According to Vargas, his legal battle showcased that a major change is not possible or done by one person, but through the support of many including his professors, attorneys and elected officials. For Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, which represented Vargas, Feb. 3 marked a historic day on many levels and hopes the New York State Judiciary's decision follows throughout similar cases across the country.
Vargas told Latin Post that fellow undocumented immigrants who may want pursue their dreams have to "step out of the shadows."
"There are amazing people who are there to support you," Vargas said. "You just need to make sure that you tell your story, tell your story that regardless of where you're born, you can be anything and that you're an American."
Fellow immigrant rights activist and DREAMer Erika Andiola, who has stood by Vargas' journey to become a lawyer, said Vargas has helped change the lives of many people by disclosing his immigration status and challenging New York, whereas he could have instead went to a different state to live his dream.
Andiola told Latin Post, "Just witnessing the fact that he would do that and the courage to do that, knowing he would wait many years to get a license, was just incredible to see and now witnessing the results that it's not just him that gets this type of opportunity to be a DREAMer-licensed lawyer [and] that they opened the door for so many other DREAMers."
"I do have the dream of going to law school one day and at least I know that if anything, I am from Arizona, but I know that if I ever move to New York I'll be able to become a lawyer thanks to what César paved for the rest of us," Andiola added.
Along with Andiola, Vargas is currently helping with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, but he does want to utilize his legal profession to represent clients, including Central American children who have no legal representation and be there just as there were people for him.
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