In an odd turn in the national debate on immigration, an undocumented immigrant has been named to a statewide post in the Golden State. This is a first, even for the progressive west, and a moment sure to stir up controversy just days after President Trump left the state.
“A 33-year-old woman has become the first undocumented immigrant named to a statewide post in California,” The Washington Post.
Lizbeth Mateo is an attorney and immigrant rights activist. She has been appointed to an advisory committee “that seeks to improve access to college for low-income California students,” the Post reports.
Even though it is a low-level position, the appointment has stirred controversy.
The committee is known as the “California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee. It serves underrepresented students who are hoping to attend college.
“Mateo was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and was brought to Los Angeles by her parents at age 14. She didn’t learn English until high school, but became the first person in her family to graduate from college,” The Post writes.
Mateo’s educational journey didn’t end with her undergraduate work. She earned a law degree from Santa Clara University in 2016. After passing the California bar, she set up a private practice.
Those celebrating Mateo’s success point to her determination. “I always went for it. Even if I felt inadequate I thought I could add something of value,” Mateo tweeted about her unique background.
California’s schools serve thousands of undocumented students. EdSource estimates 72,300 undocumented students attend public colleges and universities in the state.
“While undocumented students have become more visible in our state, they remain underrepresented in places where decisions that affect them are being made,” Mateo said. “I hope to be able to draw from my own experiences as an undocumented, first generation college graduate, and from experiences of students like myself who are currently navigating or will soon navigate the higher education system.”
While many are reacting negatively to the appointment, state senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon is not. Mateo, he says, “embodies California values and the American dream.”
“Ms. Mateo is a courageous, determined and intelligent young woman who at great personal risk has dedicated herself to fight for those seeking their rightful place in this country,” de Leon said in a statement.
The move may further erode the state’s relationship with Washington, though. President Trump has said that California is “totally out of control.”
“You have sanctuary cities where you have criminals living in sanctuary cities, and then the mayor of Oakland goes out and notifies when ICE is going in to pick them up,” Trump told reporters in San Diego Tuesday as he visited border wall prototypes. “People are going to start to move pretty soon. If you don’t have this kind of wall, drugs are pouring through in California. Can’t do it.”
“While Donald Trump fixates on walls,” de Leon noted in his statement, “California will continue to concentrate on opportunities.”