As one of the events of the annual DREAM week, La Raza Latina and Asian American Union hosted a screening of the documentary “The Undocumented Lawyer” over Zoom.
The subject of the film, Lizbeth Mateo attended and spoke to students in a discussion that followed the screening. Mateo came to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico when she was only 14-years-old with her family and similar to the experience of most undocumented immigrants, she was told by her mother to never reveal her status. Revealing her status would get them in trouble, something that echoed through her mind each time she discussed her situation in the future.
Mateo never thought she would stay in the United States longer than two years but she was quickly awakened to the realities of the opportunity she had in front of her and everything her family sacrificed for them to be there. With this in mind, Mateo went to college and eventually graduated from law school in 2016.
“I think everyone has the right to dream, and to work hard and fight for that dream,” Mateo said.
In California, a person's immigration status does not determine their ability to practice law. Even so, Mateo’s journey as an attorney was not easy. Shortly after her graduation from law school, Mateo found out she had been denied Deferred Action for Childhood Dreamers (DACA) status. This meant she was fully undocumented with no protection and openly practicing law.
What might scare some motivates Mateo. She has received death threats, immense media attention and is even in removal proceedings after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reopened her case. She persists because of her personal connection to the case.
One of Mateo’s long-term clients, Edith Espinol, has been living in sanctuary in a church in Ohio for the last three years. ICE typically doesn’t arrest in places of worship, according to the documentary, so once her case was reopened she was forced there away from her family to avoid deportation.
“I feel like I’m losing a part of my life,” Espinol said in the documentary. “We deserve a chance to provide a better life for our children.”
While Espinol’s case is ongoing, Mateo looks to the smaller wins to keep her going and build her practice.
“We believe if we have one case that wins we can start winning for more people,” she said in the documentary. “All it takes is one case.”
There are two more opportunities to participate in DREAM week and all information can be found on La Raza Latina’s Instagram: @gu.larazalatina and Asian American Union's Instagram: @gonzaga.aau.
The documentary will premiere next year on HBO, but has been made available for Gonzaga students to screen for free for the next seven days, here: https://watch.showandtell.film/watch/gonzagalawschool.