For the first time in California’s history, the state has appointed an undocumented resident to a statewide post, announcing the decision just a day after President Donald Trump attacked its immigration approach during a visit to San Diego.
The decision made by the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday saw Lizbeth Mateo, a 33-year-old attorney and immigrant rights activist, appointed to serve on a committee that helps increase college access for students from low-income or underserved communities.
In announcing the decision, Senate President pro tempore Kevin de León appeared to recognize the move as an act of defiance in the face of the Trump administration’s current immigration crackdown.
“While Donald Trump fixates on walls, California will continue to concentrate on opportunities,” De León told The Sacramento Bee in a statement. “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.”
Mateo said she welcomed the opportunity, telling the newspaper that “while undocumented students have become more visible in our state, they remain under-represented in places where decisions that affect them are being made.”
The attorney was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and came to the U.S. with her parents when she was just 14 years old. She went on to develop a passion for law and became the first person in her family to graduate from college, receiving her degree from Santa Clara University law school in 2016 and passing the California bar last year, according to her legal firm’s website. She was officially sworn in by De León on June 29, 2017.
California became the first state in the U.S. to allow undocumented immigrants to practice law in 2014, with New York following in its footsteps not long after.
In 2010, Mateo also became one of the first undocumented young people to risk deportation by demanding the passage of the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant certain immigrants, including Dreamers, or people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, a path to citizenship. She also played a key role in helping a group of young people now known as the “Dream 9” return to the U.S. after being deported to Mexico.
The decision to appoint Mateo to a statewide post came just a day after Trump visited California for the first time as president, taking a trip to San Diego to see prototypes of the border wall he plans to build between the U.S. and Mexico.
During the visit, Trump claimed that California was “begging us to build walls in certain areas.”
“They won’t tell you that, but we said no, we won’t do it until we build the whole wall,” Trump said, adding that parts of the state were complaining about “people pouring in” across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president has repeatedly condemned California’s allowance of sanctuary cities, writing on Twitter on Wednesday that “California’s sanctuary policies are illegal and unconstitutional and put the safety and security of our entire nation at risk.
“Thousands of dangerous and violent criminal aliens are released as a result of sanctuary policies, set free to prey on innocent Americans. THIS MUST STOP!” he added.
The U.S. leader also lashed out at the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, saying he was doing a “terrible” job. Brown hit back, saying, “Thanks for the shout-out, Donald Trump. But bridges are still better than walls.”