This month, the School of Law’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted an exclusive screening of the new HBO documentary, “The Undocumented Lawyer.” The 20-minute film provides a window into the life and work of Lizbeth Mateo, a licensed California attorney and undocumented U.S. immigrant, who is fighting for asylum seekers and immigration reform.
Following the screening, Mateo and film director Chris Temple, joined a virtual Q&A moderated by Professor Amy Kimpel to share their insights about the film and discuss the legal challenges faced by undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers.
Mateo moved to the U.S. with her family as a teenager. They came together with the hope of living a better life, though they recognized it wouldn’t be easy. Mateo’s mom warned her to not tell others that she is undocumented, so she kept quiet about her immigration status until she met other undocumented students while in college.
Realizing that the only way she could keep her family safe was by sharing her story and fighting for rights of others who are undocumented, Mateo joined and organized activist movements and then went on to become an immigration attorney. In response to those who may question how an undocumented immigrant can become a lawyer, she cited that the state of California doesn’t limit individuals from practicing law if they are able to pass the bar and meet all other necessary licensing requirements. Mateo has met those requirements and made a pledge to uphold the constitution—even though the U.S. doesn’t recognize her as a citizen.
In her work, Mateo takes on cases that she feels have the potential influence immigration policy for years to come. While Mateo’s own immigration case has recently been re-opened by ICE to start her deportation proceedings, she plans to continue to fight for reform for as long as she is able.