SACRAMENTO – One day after President Trump came to California to see prototypes of his border wall, the state Senate made history Wednesday by selecting its first undocumented resident for a statewide appointment.
“While Donald Trump fixates on walls, California will continue to concentrate on opportunities,” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).
The Senate Rules Committee appointed Lizbeth Mateo, a 33-year-old attorney and immigrant rights activist, to an advisory committee to increase college access opportunities for California students from low income families. She is the first undocumented resident without legal protected status* to be appointed to a statewide commission in California history.
“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,” said Senator de León, chair of the Rules Committee. “She embodies California values and the American Dream.”
As a member of the California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee, Ms. Mateo will advise the Student Aid Commission on efforts to increase postsecondary education opportunities for students from low-income families, those who’d be the first in their family to attend college, or those from underserved communities with low college enrollment.
“While undocumented students have become more visible in our state, they remain underrepresented in places where decisions that affect them are being made,” said Ms. Mateo. “I welcome this opportunity to advise and help the Student Aid Commission achieve its goals.
“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. I have no doubt that California can do more for all underrepresented students, especially in regions with low college participation rates, and I appreciate the opportunity to be able to help in any way I can.”
Officials estimate that 72,300 students are enrolled in California’s public colleges and universities, with 60,000 attending community colleges, 8,300 on California State University campuses and another 4,000 in the University of California system.
Ms. Mateo was born in Oaxaca, Mexico and came to Los Angeles with her parents at the age of 14. She learned English in high school, attended Santa Monica College and earned her B.A. at California State University, Northridge. She was the first in her family to earn a college degree.
In 2016, she earned her Juris Doctorate degree from Santa Clara University. She passed the California State Bar examination the following year and was sworn in as an attorney by Senator de León.
Her advocacy and organizing for immigrant rights dates back 10 years and while at Cal State Northridge began to publically advocate with other undocumented students for passage of the Dream Act. When the legislation failed, President Obama administratively enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Ms. Mateo is now a private attorney with the Law Offices of Lizbeth Mateo and member of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
*Point of Clarification: Last year, Governor Brown appointed a DACA recipient to the California State University Board of Trustees.