New York’s first openly undocumented lawyer Cesar Vargas visited Madison this past weekend to discuss his journey of becoming a practicing lawyer and the struggles facing undocumented students in the current political climate.
Vargas came to the United States from Mexico when he was 5 years old. After his father passed away, Vargas’ mother made the decision to come to the United States for economic reasons.
Vargas came “out of the shadows” in 2010 and after that, he knew he couldn’t be just a law student or lawyer — he had to be an advocate.
“Papers or no papers, citizenship or no citizenship, we all have power,” Vargas said.
After passing the bar exam in 2011, Vargas had to battle for four years to become a lawyer — a process that normally takes three months.
Vargas also worked with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, during his 2016 campaign.
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But Vargas stressed a law degree or college degree isn’t needed to make a difference, and it’s also not necessary to have to go to Washington D.C.
One can make a big difference in Madison itself, especially on the University of Wisconsin campus or through the state Legislature, Vargas said. On a state level, Vargas said Wisconsin has a lot of influence because it is a battleground state.
The conversation on a national level regarding undocumented immigrants has been so “backwards” in Washington D.C., Vargas said. A lot of ground has been lost because instead of talking about protecting all undocumented immigrants, the focus is on protecting less than a million. This is because the Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals is safe for only 800,000 individuals.
“[The language of] Dreamers being good immigrants is great but it’s very easy to fall into a trap where good immigrants implies there are bad immigrants,” Vargas said. “We can’t accept this toxic rhetoric.”
Vargas said he will never accept a solution that throws other immigrants under the bus.
Lawmakers have until March 23 to make a deal with Congress and the White House, but Vargas doesn’t think any sort of deal will pass since multiple bipartisan efforts have fallen short.
“My loyalty does not lie with a political party — it lies with my community, my family,” Vargas said.
He said it’s easy for impacted individuals to lose hope, but it’s important to look toward other symbols, like parents and supporters, for inspiration. Vargas said his symbol of hope is his mother.
Vargas said it’s also important for undocumented students to tell their story.
“I call myself 100 percent Mexican but also 100 percent American. This is our nation, our country, and we can’t accept that we’re just visitors,” Vargas said. “We’re talking about defining future for our generation.”