An attorney and immigrant rights activist living in the U.S. illegally has been named to a statewide appointment in the nation's most populous state, California's Senate leader announced Wednesday.
The Senate Rules Committee appointed Lizbeth Mateo to be an adviser on college access and financial aid. Mateo is well known for championing protections for people without legal authorization to live in the U.S. who were brought to the country as children. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon framed her appointment as a rebuke of Republican President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
Mateo is the first person without legal protected status to receive a statewide appointment in California, according to de Leon's office. In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed to the California State University Board of Trustees a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives protection from deportation to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
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As a member of the Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee, Mateo will advise the California Student Aid Commission to help low-income and marginalized people attend college. The position is not paid. The Senate Rules committee, which oversees such appointments, does not have a record of ever before confirming a person living in the country illegally to a statewide position, according to de Leon's office.
Matteo, 33, was born in Mexico and moved to California with her parents at age 14. She was the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She now has her own law office in Los Angeles.
"I hope to be able to draw from my own experiences as an undocumented, first generation college graduate," she said in a statement. "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."
De Leon announced Mateo's appointment the day after Trump visited California to view prototypes of his proposed border wall and a week after the U.S. Justice Department sued the state over policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Democrats who run California's government, including de Leon, vehemently oppose the wall and Trump's conservative stance on immigration. Matteo's appointment comes as the U.S. Congress is struggling to reach an agreement about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants temporary protected status to people living in the country illegally who came to the U.S. as children.
The program's future is uncertain after Trump attempted to cancel it last year and tasked Congress with reauthorizing it. Although she isn't a DACA recipient herself, Mateo has been a vocal advocate of protections for young immigrants. She was among the most prominent activists to call for passage of the DREAM Act, which would have provided similar protections to DACA but was never passed by Congress.
Assemblyman Travis Allen, a Republican from Huntington Beach, criticized the appointment.
"This is an insult to every California citizen and legal resident," he said in a statement. "The California Democratic Party now prioritizes illegal immigrants over California citizens."
But De Leon said Mateo embodies California values. "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," he said in a statement.