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Immigrant Activist Cesar Vargas Gets OK to Practice Law in New York

Cesar Vargas poses for a portrait on Capitol Hill, April 19th, 2011. Vargas is an undocumented immigrant who is pushing for immigration law reform.Denny Henry

A young immigration activist without legal status in the U.S. can get a professional license to practice law after a New York appeals court approved his application to the state bar.

The decision making Cesar Vargas, co-director of the DRM Coalition, the first immigrant eligible for the bar is the first New York ruling allowing a law graduate who has been allowed to remain in the country through a program known as DACA eligible for bar admission, according to attorneys in the case. DACA is a program that was authorized by President Barack Obama in 2012 through executive action and has shielded more than 900,000 young immigrants from deportation.

Federal law prohibits the issuance of state professional licenses to immigrants illegally in the U.S., but states can opt out of that prohibition with their own laws. New York had done this and gave its jurisdiction on approving bar admissions to its judiciary.

"This is the first favorable New York court decision explicitly holding that an undocumented law graduate with DACA" meets New York requirements for bar admission, said Jose Perez, associate general counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, which provided Vargas lawyers for his case.

Vargas came to the United States from Mexico illegally when he was 5 years old. He graduated from City University of New York School of Law.

He joins Sergio Garcia in winning a legal challenge to allow him to practice law. Garcia took his challenge to the California Supreme Court and won.