DES MOINES, Iowa — An aspiring New York lawyer trying to become one of the few immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to be granted a law license hit a glitch Wednesday when an Iowa judge refused to prematurely end his probation on a misdemeanor conviction.
Cesar Vargas, who was 5 when his mother brought him to the U.S. from Mexico, was arrested in January for disrupting a speech by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Des Moines. The immigration activist was convicted in June of trespassing, sentenced to a year of probation and fined $65.
The 31-year-old is applying for a law license in New York, which generally doesn’t grant licenses to people on probation. Vargas asked a judge to end his probation early, and finished all other requirements of his sentence, but the judge refused Wednesday.
“It would be rare for this court to discharge anybody sooner,” Judge Kevin Parker said during a hearing in Des Moines, adding that he saw no reason to allow an exception in his case.
Vargas, who went to high school and college in New York, said he accepted the decision.
“This is part of the journey,” Vargas said after the hearing. “I’ve learned that although you need a license to be admitted as a lawyer and to represent clients, you don’t need a license to advocate for your family.”
In January, Vargas interrupted Christie — now a GOP presidential candidate — during an Iowa Freedom Summit gathering arranged by U.S. Rep. Steve King, an outspoken opponent of President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.
Before a crowd of more than 1,000 Republicans, Vargas asked Christie if he would support deporting Vargas’ 70-year-old mother, who brought the family to the U.S. in 1988. Vargas was arrested after leaving the event.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Polk County prosecutor Jeff Noble said he respected Vargas’ willingness to speak out on principles he believes in, but noted it was unusual for anyone placed on probation for a year to serve less than six months.
Noble also said Vargas inconvenienced the court by demanding a jury trial on a simple misdemeanor trespass charge.
After the hearing, Vargas’ attorney criticized that assertion and said the county attorney’s office and the Iowa Department of Corrections routinely allow people to be discharged early.
“Mr. Vargas has been consistent and loud in expressing his opinions, and the county attorney and the state doesn’t like him expressing his opinions, and we think that’s reflected here today,” defense attorney Glen Downey said.
Vargas completed high school in New York and obtained a law degree from City University of New York School of Law. He has been allowed to remain and work in the U.S. under Obama’s Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals policy initiated in 2012.
A New York appeals court in June said Vargas could apply for a law license — making him the first person illegally living in the U.S. to be eligible to practice as an attorney in New York and among only a few in the U.S.