(Reuters) - A New York appeals court has granted a law license to an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child, ruling in one of the first cases of its kind that immigration status has little to do with practicing law.
The Appellate Division, Second Department, in Brooklyn said on Wednesday that immigration activist Cesar Vargas, 31, had met all of the qualifications necessary to win a law license, including showing the required character and fitness.
“We are guided by the United States Supreme Court’s long-standing recognition that visiting condemnation on the head of an infant is illogical and unjust,” the unanimous court wrote.
Vargas was brought to the United States from Mexico by his mother when he was 5, court documents said. He qualified for a renewable two-year amnesty through a government program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, aimed at people who came into the country illegally as children and were 30 or younger in 2012.
The court’s decision applies only to people enrolled in that program.
Vargas, who advocates for reforms to immigration laws, passed the state bar exam after attending New York City public schools, St. Francis College in Brooklyn and CUNY Law School, the court said.
Last year, Sergio Garcia of California and Jose Godinez-Samperio of Florida, both of whom came to the country from Mexico as young children, became the first undocumented immigrants in the United States to be granted law licenses. Vargas appears to be the third. (reut.rs/1cL48uD)
Vargas’ attorney, Juan Cartagena, said in a statement that his client had broken new ground for undocumented immigrants in New York.
“This court did not shy away from the larger issues in the immigration debate and in doing so gives hope to many aspiring Latino law students,” said Cartagena, the president of legal group LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
The office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman backed Vargas, telling the court in a brief that a federal law barring undocumented immigrants from receiving professional licenses violated the U.S. Constitution.
The case is In the Matter of the Application of Cesar Adrian Vargas, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, No. 2013-10725.
Editing by Alan Crosby and Christian Plumb