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Immigration Law

Bar Exam Passed, Immigrant Still Can’t Practice Law

"Cesar Vargas seemed to have checked all the right boxes in his quest to become a lawyer in New York State. He made honors at both college and law school in New York City, his home since coming to the United States from Mexico at age 5. He interned with a State Supreme Court judge, a Brooklyn district attorney and a United States congressman. And he passed the state bar exam.

The only obstacle that remained before he could become a certified lawyer was an evaluation of his background and character by a committee appointed by the State Supreme Court.

That committee rated him “stellar.” In the same stroke, however, they also recommended against his certification as a lawyer. The reason: Mr. Vargas is an unauthorized immigrant. The question of whether he should be allowed to practice law, the committee said, was better suited to the courts or the Legislature to decide. The matter, which now rests with the State Supreme Court’s appellate division, has become a test case for whether immigrants in this country illegally can practice law in New York.

Last week, lawyers for Mr. Vargas, who has in recent years become a national activist for immigration reform, submitted a brief to the appellate division of the New York Supreme Court arguing why he should be allowed to practice law.

State law, he explained, does not appear to make immigration status a criterion for admission. The crux of his argument, he said, is a paragraph in state judiciary law that specifically precludes race, color, creed, national origin or “alienage” — being a foreigner — as grounds for prohibiting admission.

Mr. Vargas also argued that he is currently allowed to work legally under a program, known as deferred action, that provides work authorization to qualified immigrants brought to the country illegally as children." - NYT, Dec. 4, 2013.