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Lizbeth Mateo, the immigration lawyer who fights for undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, now has her own agenda – fighting for herself to stay.
Ms. Mateo was born in Oaxaca, Mexico. Along with her family, she entered the United States in 1998, at the age of 14. She has been an organizer of multiple organizations that support undocumented immigrants for over ten years.
However, she has never had any legal status and has applied for her citizenship twice and was declined the right to live in the country where she is an attorney, who has been fighting for people just like her to remain in the country.
“How does that even happen?” asks Dawa Sherpa, a LaGuardia Nursing major. “If she has been working here already and she is not doing anything bad to this country, she should be fine. She has rights to be here. And what they are doing is not correct. Throwing people away, and she is not harming this country.”
She is most known for being associated with the “Dream 9,” a project that involved travelling back to Mexico along with two other organizers, to bring eight young, deported immigrants back into the U.S to apply for the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2015 following their arrival. “A year and a half later, they wanted to take me to court about why I left, to essentially approve my application,” said Ms. Mateo. In May 2016, she was denied legal status.
Not many were aware of Ms. Mateo’s situation. Those who were informed had similar reactions. “An immigration lawyer getting deported? That’s just complex. She served this country basically,” says electrician major, Kyle Cox.
While most undocumented immigrants would look for an immigration lawyer who, generally, is a citizen of the country they are trying to remain in, Ms. Mateo prefer to take a different route. Attorney Luis Angel Reyes Savalza, is also an immigrant. “I thought it would be a perfect fit, for him to represent me.”
When asked whether or not she experiences discrimination for her fight for citizenship as an undocumented lawyer, Ms. Mateo explains, “People in the community have been very kind and very welcoming; there might be this random person online that might have something to say but other than that I don’t really pay attention to that.”
LaGuardia Community College is also a place where many students are fighting the same battle as Ms. Mateo, and she advises them to “Get involved.” She adds: “DACA, for instance, is possible thanks to the organizing of so many people, people that have fought for years. And maybe they can develop another program that will protect our people.”
In light of President Trump terminating the DACA act, fear has been an ever-occurring emotion, felt by those who are affected. Ms. Mateo thinks, “young people really need to get involved, and this is the perfect time to do so, especially now because some of them tweak for the president. And I understand that they are afraid. And fear is normal. It’s okay to feel fear. But they shouldn’t let that paralyze them.”
“It’s not fair, to be deported after working all those years. She should get a chance, it’s very sad. I hope the law changes for all those people in her situation ‘cause it’s not only her,” Emy, a computer science major, adds when asked about her thoughts on the situation.
Single Stop, a nonprofit organization located in C-107, assists students with both financial and legal help, based on their circumstances. Rhonda Mouton, the program director gives insight on how DACA students are being accommodated.
“Well, those students are specifically coming in and seeing our attorneys. Because everything is changing by the hour. That’s the best thing we can offer for them; to make sure they are getting the correct information. Whatever assistance they need, we can straighten that out for them. And this reaches out to their families as well, not only the students.”
If you, a family member or associate is going through the same or similar situation as Lizbeth Mateo, it is advised that you visit Single Stop, speak to someone from CUNY Citizenship Now or simply call NY311 and say “Action NYC” for legal help.