Tina He / Sun Staff Photographer

April 8, 2016

First Undocumented N.Y. State Lawyer Asserts Immigrants’ Rights in Talk

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César Vargas, the first undocumented lawyer to be admitted to the New York State Bar, spoke at Cornell Law School Wednesday about his journey as an immigrants’ rights advocate and his role in drafting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) immigration policy platform.

Vargas, the Latino Outreach Strategist for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, said that his status as “a dreamer” — a term derived from the DREAM act for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as young children — greatly impacted the trajectory of his career and life.

After Vargas made it through college, he said he applied to law schools and received rejections solely due to his immigration status.

“I remember one school sent me a letter saying ‘you need to show social security,’” Vargas said. He added that when he told them he did not have a social security number, the university replied that they could not accept him. Furthermore, he said securing the funds to attend law school posed a significant challenge.

Vargas said that he was able to overcome these challenges by sharing his story with his CUNY law school dean, who then helped him obtain private scholarships.

“That’s why I always tell dreamers: ‘tell your story,’” he said. “There are so many people out there who are willing to support you. You just need to let them know.”

Vargas also said sharing his story became a powerful tool in mobilizing people around immigration reform.

“I remember when I came out to my friends in law school as undocumented, they told me ‘Now I understand immigration from a different perspective. Now I see what it means to practice immigration law’” Vargas said.

He continued that humanizing people has been crucial to his work as an immigration reform advocate.

“One of the central components of fixing this broken immigration system is seeing people as people,” he said.

After graduating from law school and passing the bar exam, Vargas said he faced yet another roadblock when he sought admission to the New York State Bar. Although Vargas explained that, having passed the bar, he could have “flown under the radar” and been given a license to practice law without mentioning that he was undocumented, he wanted to confront the issue of being an undocumented person who wanted to be admitted to the bar.

“I spent almost four years waiting to become a licensed lawyer,” Vargas said, alluding to the four year legal battle for certification that followed his graduation.

Although Vargas said he initially regretted his decision to place himself in such a situation, the regret disappeared when he was finally granted the ability to practice.

“The court’s decision was beautiful,” he said, “It said that regardless of where you come from, you can be a lawyer. You can be a professional.”

Vargas said that he counts the court’s decisions as one of his biggest achievements.

“The decision showed me that you might need a license to practice law and appear before a judge, but you don’t need a license to advocate for your community,” he said.

His position in the Sanders campaign ties in closely with his previous experience of mobilizing to advocate for immigrant rights, according to Vargas.

“To me this campaign is all about challenging the establishment and challenging the status quo of ‘no, this can’t be done,’” he said. “For me, the Bernie campaign is all about coming together and pushing boundaries in order to get real change.”

11 thoughts on “First Undocumented N.Y. State Lawyer Asserts Immigrants’ Rights in Talk

  1. If Trump didn’t exist, why he would have been invented:

    How Illegal Immigration Finally Turned Off the Public

    “Why did the illegal-immigration issue launch Donald Trump’s campaign? Why did his recent tense press conference exchange with Univision’s Jorge Ramos please even some of Trump’s liberal critics? What is it about illegal immigration that has finally turned off so many Americans?”

  2. Of course this “un-biased” article makes no mention of that Mr. Vargas lives in America illegally, that his parents cut hundreds of thousands of legal visa applicants to come here, or that Mr. Vargas’ education at CUNY was subsidized by taxpayers who work hard only to have their taxes fund infiltrators.

    Truly disgraceful journalism – there are two sides to every issue, and this article glorifies law-breaking without even mentioning the other side of the argument.

    • @Concerned Student: Hmm . . . perhaps I did not read the same article. I thought the article was pretty clear that he was undocumented (which, by definition, would encompass living inside the US without authorization to do so).

      As for your great indignation at cutting “hundreds of thousands of legal visa applicants to come here”, you could not be further from the truth and you clearly do not understand how our immigration “system” works. “Cutting” would imply jumping to the head of a line and taking someone else’s place. I guarantee you that not one person was displaced out of any “line” or visa allotment because of this guy’s parents. Congress does not count persons entering illegally in any visa quota. We take advantage of their cheap labor and kick them out when it suits us with very little due process.

      I will take your great indignation more seriously when you stop supporting illegal immigration with your food choices. Unless you drink only water and eat only rice, wheat, corn and/or sorghum, undocumented hands made your dinner possible and you support them. I will also take you seriously when you start reporting yourself to the local authorities for speeding. See you in the fields around harvest time or in the slaughterhouse or at the dairy farm – what? You have never been in a field for harvest or in a slaughterhouse or in a dairy farm? I am shocked, simply shocked.

      But do keep banging away on immigration for cheap political points – you and others like you are the key to the continued Republican efforts to win the hearts and minds of the fastest growing voting demographic. God bless you.

    • That Ole argument that you should be thankful for the food you eat, etc., etc. UH—-

      The U.S. currently has eleven non immigrant guest worker visa programs.

      There is no cap on the number of workers allowed into the U.S. under the H-2A temporary agricultural guest worker visa program.

      “The provision could more than triple the number of H-2B visas for foreign workers seeking jobs at hotels, theme parks, ski resorts, golf courses, landscaping businesses, restaurants and bars. The move is intended to boost the supply of non-agricultural seasonal workers.”


      Alabama had to bite the bullet and hire LEGAL Immigrants for its AG Industry:

      Africans Relocate to Alabama to Fill Jobs After Immigration Law

      “East Coast began calling Atlanta refugee agencies several months ago looking for legal immigrants to come to Alabama for a year, said Mbanfu,
      refugee employment director for Lutheran Services in Atlanta. He said the company would have taken as many refugees as he could refer. The agency connected East Coast with refugees who had been in the country
      three to five years, he said.”

      Immigration raids yield jobs for legal workers

      ‘When federal agents descended on six meatpacking plants owned by Swift & Co. in December 2006, they rounded up nearly 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants that made up about 10% of the labor force at the plants.

      But the raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents did not cripple the company or the plants. In fact, they were back up and running at full staff within months by replacing those removed with a significant number of native-born Americans, according to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

      “Whenever there’s an immigration raid, you find white, black and legal immigrant labor lining up to do those jobs that Americans will supposedly not do,” said Swain, who teaches law and political science.”

    • Also, not mentioned is that AG is becoming more and more mechanized, even harvesting delicate fruits and vegetables. Only 4% of Illegal Aliens in the US are in AG to begin with.

  3. Pingback: Cornell Law School Online Status | Great Business Online Expert

  4. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/02/27/opposition-to-immigration-reform-is-a-winning-strategy-for-republicans/

    “By any measure, fears of (Illegal) immigration are driving many white Americans to the Republican Party. And, indeed, the Republican strategy on immigration appears to have been successful. Republicans now control the House and the Senate, the governor’s office in 31 states, and two-thirds of the state legislatures. They are winning the political war.”

    “An even bigger factor is that the ties of racial and ethnic minorities to the Democratic Party are tenuous. Research by Taeku Lee and myself shows that most Latinos and Asian Americans don’t feel like they fit into either party. In national surveys, those who refuse to answer a question about party identification, those who claim that they do not think in partisan terms, and independents make up the clear majority of both groups. All told, 56 percent of Latinos and 57 percent of Asian-American identify as nonpartisans.

    Even among blacks, there are signs of ambivalence. Almost 30 percent of blacks feel
    that the Democratic Party does not work hard for black interests.”


    “Most Hispanics aren’t single-issue voters when it comes to immigration. A recent Gallup poll found that among registered Latino voters, 67 percent are at least willing to support a candidate who doesn’t share their views on immigration. And 18 percent don’t consider the issue important at all.

    What’s more, many Hispanic citizens have little sympathy for immigrants who haven’t played by the rules. Especially among Latino voters born in the United States, resentment of immigrants who have entered the country illegally can run deep. Forty-two percent of American-born Hispanics disapprove of President Obama’s executive actions to prevent the deportation of illegal immigrants.”

    Reuben Navarette: No Joke: Trump Can Win Plenty of Latinos

    Gee, No wonder why I fall into the Proud Independent group.

  5. The Liberal Case AGAINST Illegal Immigration:


    This is the Progressive Case AGAINST Illegal Immigration:


    The Conscience Of A Liberal–Paul Krugman

    “First, the benefits of immigration to the population already here are small.
    ” But as Mr. Hanson explains in his paper, reasonable calculations suggest that we’re talking about very small numbers, perhaps as little as 0.1 percent of GDP.

    “My second negative point is that immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand…

    “Finally, the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear. ”


    Report: Obama’s Book Says Illegals Can Hurt Americans

    Didn’t anyone in the Hispanic media read Obama’s book? Or listen to when he speaks?

    Barack Obama in his own words from “The Audacity of Hope”
    – Illegal Immigration hurts Black Americans and Blue Collared Workers

    Video Not Working? I wonder why?!? Here’s an Audio Link:

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