New York Court Rules That Undocumented Immigrant May Practice Law
Jul 10, 2015
Houston, TX (Law Firm Newswire) July 10, 2014 – Decision in favor of Mexican immigrant marks key victory for so-called Dreamers.
In what could be a test case for immigrant rights in the country, an appellate panel of the New York state Supreme Court on June 3 overturned a committee’s 2013 decision that denied an undocumented immigrant the right to practice law. As a result of the court’s ruling, Cesar Vargas, a 31-year-old immigrant from Mexico, will be admitted to the New York state bar and be able to work as a lawyer.
Vargas was not the first undocumented immigrant to become eligible to practice law — there were two other individuals who won approval after court decisions in California and Florida, respectively. However, unlike California and Florida, which had enabling legislation in place to permit the licensing of unauthorized immigrants, New York does not have such legislation, although a similar bill failed to pass the state Legislature last year.
In its opinion, the state Supreme Court’s Second Judicial Department of the Appellate Division found that there was no legal or rational basis for not allowing an undocumented immigrant who had been granted relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to practice law. DACA, which the Obama administration initiated in 2012, allows undocumented immigrants who arrive in the United States before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to obtain a renewable two-year work permit as well as an exemption from deportation.
“With President Obama’s executive actions on immigration from last November still tied up in the courts, this decision marks a significant victory for the Dreamers who qualify under DACA,” said Annie Banerjee, a prominent attorney in Houston who specializes in immigration law. “The court ruling serves as an inspiration for the Dreamers to follow an educational path toward any career they choose.”
Aside from stressing that Vargas’ undocumented immigration status did not reflect adversely upon his fitness for practicing law, the court also pointed out that Vargas did not enter the United States under his own volition, but rather arrived here at the age of 5 while accompanying his mother.
Vargas, who is a co-director of the Dream Action Coalition, which advocates for justice for immigrants and immigration reform, passed the New York state bar in 2011 and first applied to the bar in 2012. He has also interned with a state Supreme Court judge, at the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and with a member of Congress.
“The New York decision is important in that it could set a precedent for allowing Dreamers to work in certain fields that have been hitherto restricted to documented immigrants,” Banerjee indicated. “And hopefully, the ruling is a harbinger of more comprehensive national immigration reform in Washington.”
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