When Cesar Vargas was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents he was just 5 years old. Now, at 29, the law school graduate who recently passed New York's Bar Exam, is ready to become a lawyer.
The only problem: Vargas is undocumented and U.S. courts have never knowingly licensed an individual without lawful status, he told ABC/Univision.
On Monday, Vargas arrived at the offices of New York's Committees on Character & Fitness in Brooklyn, New York, his bar application in hand. The application itself was fairly easy, Vargas said. But unlike most of his peers, Vargas added letters of support to his application from notable politicians, including U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).
Only one section of the application gave him trouble.
"It asked 'Where were you born?', so obviously I put 'Mexico,'" Vargas said. "And then it asked 'What is your immigration status?', so I had to put 'Without status,' and attach a cover letter to explain the specifics of my case."
This won't be the first time his status has gotten in the way of his dreams. Vargas wanted to be a Marine, but was told he was ineligible because of his undocumented status. So he completed school instead.
Vargas is eligible for Obama's new deferred action policy, which provides work permits for some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States at a young age. He said he filed his application on June 15, the first day the new program was put in place, but his case is still pending. His current case is treading new ground in New York courts. However, the law graduate hopes that a deferred action work permit would help convince the New York bar to allow him to practice, noting that some foreigners with legal permanent status are able to practice law in some states under certain circumstances, such as attending American law programs.
"Assuming everything goes through as planned, it should help my case," Vargas said. "I'm confident New York will make the right decision."
Mark Mahoney, a spokesperson for the New York State Bar Association wrote in an email that this organization was unable to comment on Vargas' case, noting that they are not responsible for the "administration of the individual's application," and have not taken a "a formal position on the broader issue of undocumented immigrants being admitted to the bar." Rather, Mahoney noted, the New York Office of Court Administration (OCA) is in charge the licensing process. Spokesperson for the OCA, David Bookstaver, explained in an email that he too was unable to currently comment on Vargas' application because he did not know enough about the specific rules and requirements that would pertain to Vargas' case on short notice.
Undocumented law school graduates, Sergio Garcia and Jose Manuel Godinez-Samperio, also passed their state's bar exam, and are currently battling similar cases in the California and Florida Supreme Courts, respectively. Both were brought to the United States from Mexico illegally at a young age. However, Garcia is 35 years old, and therefore too old to benefit from Obama's deferred action policy. Godinez-Samperio, who is 26, is still eligible.
Vargas, of New York, says that he was a stellar student at the City University of New York Law school, where he held a 3.8 grade point average. He was able to graduate from college and law school with various forms of financial assistance. And now, after watching most of his peers from law school go on to become lawyers, he's determined to become a lawyer in the United States.
"I don't want special treatment or special benefits," Vargas said. "I worked hard to be where I am. I want to be evaluated on my character and my abilities."