Things That Matter

She’s An Undocumented Migrant Herself But Is Fighting For People Like Her In The Court System

Lizbeth Mateo always had a strong sense of justice since she was a small child. It was this determination that would lead her to become an immigration lawyer and a controversial appointment to a post on a state advisory committee, despite being undocumented. 

The Los Angeles lawyer is a DREAMER. She came to the U.S. from Oaxaca with her parents at 14 years old. Now, 20 years later, Mateo protects immigrants in court every day and each time she does she faces possible arrest and deportation. The Los Angeles Times profiled Mateo as she fights for herself by fighting for others. 

“I’m a walking contradiction,” Mateo told the newspaper.

Officials received death threats when Mateo was appointed to a state advisory board.

When the Senate Rules Committee appointed Mateo to the California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee, her legal status made headlines. 

“While Donald Trump fixates on walls, California will continue to concentrate on opportunities,” Kevin de León, state Senate president pro tem, said in 2018. “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.”

De Leon took a lot of flack, including death threats, for appointing an undocumented immigrant. But who better to help underserved students than one herself. 

“There were some really angry people who said really nasty things,” said Mateo. “They said ICE is coming, they’re going to report me and they hope Trump sends the Army.”

Mateo is a local hero to immigrants who credit her courage for making real change. 

“Any of us with DACA owe Lizbeth and the movement,” said Mateo’s attorney Luis Angel Reyes Savalza who is also undocumented.

Mateo is still on her journey to citizenship. She believes that for people like her, people who have come here without papers but contribute so deeply to society will have a chance at naturalization — at least someday. 

“I wouldn’t say I worry about her. I’d say I’m very much inspired by her, and she’s inspired many others in her outspokenness and her activism,” Reyes Savalza said. “I do think she’s taking a very calculated risk, and I think it speaks to the kind of person she is that she puts community first.”

Even if Mateo is unsurprised by the Trump’s administration anti-immigration policies and disappointed in Democrats who have done little to stop him, she still believes her chances in the United States were better than in Oaxaca. 

“It provides opportunities. So much so that someone like me, who came from a tiny town in Oaxaca — with parents who only finished sixth grade, nothing more — could make it and become an attorney,” she said. 

Mateo’s journey from a struggling ESL student to a revered lawyer was not easy. 

Mateo attended Venice High but it was no walk in the park, the once superstar student wasn’t able to shine her brightest as she struggled to learn English.  

“I couldn’t stand being in school, didn’t understand things and felt isolated and very stupid. In Mexico, I was outgoing and always raising my hand and answering questions,” Mateo said. “I remember one day I came home crying and told my mom I wanted to go back to Oaxaca and live with my grandmother. She said OK, we’ll send you back if that’s what you want. But you have to wait because we don’t have any money.”

Mateo didn’t give up. She graduated from Venice High then attended Santa Monica College and Cal State Northridge. Although her options for grad school and job prospects would be limited due to her immigration status, she continued to fight for her place in the United States. 

In 2014, she and nine other DREAMERs were arrested after traveling south of the border then returning to protest deportations under the Obama administration and lobby for the DREAM act. The move, going back to Mexico, disqualified her from receiving DACA protections. Mateo was still able to attend Santa Clara University for law school soon after. 

“There was a level of determination that is very rare and inspirational and … what was amazing was that she led others,” said one of her professors, Michelle Oberman. “She’s a hero of mine and in this day of big egos she’s quite centered. … It’s all in the service of others and it’s not about her. That’s what’s most singularly impressive.”

Mateo received her law degree, passed the bar, and made defending immigrants her life’s mission. And the rest is history in the making. 

Protests Against ICE Detention Centers Reached New Heights As Airplanes Typed Messages In The Sky Across The U.S.

Things That Matter

Protests Against ICE Detention Centers Reached New Heights As Airplanes Typed Messages In The Sky Across The U.S.

Dee Gonzalez / In Plain Sight

A global pandemic is still gripping the United States – along with much of the world. But still many Americans headed outside over the long holiday weekend and, before the evening fireworks, were greeted by powerful anti-ICE messages written in the skies.

The skywriting campaign comes as much of the world’s attention is focused on Covid-19 and organizers hope to redirect some attention on the thousands of migrants who remain locked up in detention centers across the country.

Activists took to the skies at more than 80 sites across the country with a powerful message against U.S. immigration policy.

Over the July 4th weekend, two fleets of skytyping airplanes created artist-generated messages across the U.S. The fleet of aircraft targeted 80 different ICE detention facilities, immigration court houses, processing centers, and former internment camps. Written with water vapor, the messages are designed to be seen and read for miles.

Each message ended with #XMAP, which, when plugged into social media, directs users to an online interactive map that offers a view of the closest ICE facilities to the user.

Visitors to the event’s website are encouraged to donate to local funds like the Black Immigrant Bail Fund and join the #FreeThemAll campaign, which advocates for the release of detainees from crowded facilities, where social distancing is often impossible right now.

The ambitious project took a year to plan, and is one component of an artist-led protest against immigrant detention and America’s mass incarceration problem. With “In Plain Sight,” organizers are hoping to educate viewers—and to encourage the abolition of facilities such as these.

“I think the public is somewhat aware of what’s happening in detention centers—they’ve seen the images of kids in cages—but they don’t know the full scale,” said Cassils, in an interview with Quartz.

The team aimed to set a national record with its #XMAP campaign.

Credit: In Plain Sight

The artists reached out to the only skywriting company in the country (which owns the patent on skywriting) and learned that the largest campaign executed over U.S. soil involved about 80 sites and three fleets of planes. That established the project’s framework, and from there they went about the task of bringing on collaborators, many of whom have experiences with immigration and the detainment of oppressed minority groups.

The artists they tapped vary in age, gender identity, and nationality; some are formerly incarcerated, or are descended from the descendants of Holocaust survivors. Black, Japanese-American, First Nations and Indigenous perspectives are present, speaking to the historical intersections of xenophobia, migration, and incarceration.

The protests were seen throughout Southern California – from LA to San Diego.

Credit: In Plain Sight

In Southern California, the demonstration kicked off on the 4th of July at 9:30 a.m. above the Adelanto Detention Center, before traveling to downtown L.A., where 15-character messages will be left in the late morning airspace above immigration facilities, county and federal lockups and courthouses. The planes then traveled to the Arcadia and Pomona locations of internment camps where Japanese Americans where held prisoner during World War II.

Later in the afternoon, planes were seeing typing messages in the sky above the Terminal Island detention center, before traveling further south to Orange County and San Diego, where messages were left above courts and immigration offices.

The campaign also popped up in El Paso, TX, where a massacre last year left many Latinos dead.

Credit: In Plain Sight

Binational, El Paso-based artist Margarita Cabrera activated the El Paso-Juárez portion of the performance with her message “UPLIFT: NI UNX MAS” at the Bridge of the Americas.

“Uplift” refers to uplifting immigrant communities, as well as the border fence and other immigration detention facilities. “Ni unx más” was inspired by Mexican poet and activist Susana Chávez’s 1995 phrase “ni una muerta más,” or “not one more [woman] dead.” The phrase protests femicides in Mexico, particularly in Juárez. Cabrera used X to be gender-neutral. 

“This is a call to abolish this systematic violence and the incarceration and detention of our immigrants,” Cabrera told the El Paso Times. “We’re creating a sky activation, but we’re also grounding it with local events.”

Across the border in New Mexico, “ESTOY AQUI” and “SOBREVIVIRE” were respectively written over the Otero County Processing Center and Otero County Prison Facility. The messages draw from songs respectively by Shakira and Mexican pop star Monica Naranjo. Designed by artists Carlos Motta and Felipe Baeza, the full message, “I am here, I will survive,” is intended for both detainees and outside onlookers.

“We wanted to address those in the detention sites and acknowledge the fact that they are there, that we know they are there, and that they will be fine eventually even if their conditions are precarious and they are going through a difficult time right now,” Motta told the El Paso Times.

And in New York City, several major monuments became canvases for the activists’ message.

Credit: In Plain Sight

In New York City, the words “My pain is so big” were written over a detention center in downtown Brooklyn.

“To be human,” wappeared over Rikers Island and “Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia,” the name of the first immigrant to die from Covid-19 in detention was projected at the Statue of Liberty monument in Ellis Island.

Here’s Everything You Should Know About Trump’s Plan To Further Limit Asylum For Migrants And Refugees

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Here’s Everything You Should Know About Trump’s Plan To Further Limit Asylum For Migrants And Refugees

Nicolas Chamm / Getty Images

In what many are calling the most sweeping changes to asylum law ever, the Trump administration has proposed new rules regarding how migrants and refugees qualify for asylum protection in the U.S.

The rules would have a major impact on the ability of people with a legitimate fear for their safety – or that of their family – to prove their case before U.S. asylum courts. In some cases, asylum seekers may not even be given a chance to pleas their cases before an immigration court as the rules could leave some decisions in the hands of front line screeners, such as Border Patrol agents.

Trump administration unveils sweeping plan to limit asylum claims.

The Trump administration has released its furthest-reaching plant yet when it comes to trying to change asylum law in the U.S. The administration is trying to change the meaning of “persecution” to make it harder for migrants and refugees, with legitimate fears of persecution and danger, to be able to secure asylum in the U.S.

The 161-page proposal, officially posted Monday in the Federal Register, would also streamline the asylum-approval process, letting immigration judges rather than immigration courts make rulings in asylum cases and redefining the definition of a frivolous application.

“Essentially, this rule tries, in a way that hasn’t been done before, to define what can be grounds for asylum,” said Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

The rule change could potentially bar relief to anyone who has passed through two countries before reaching the U.S. or who spent 14 days or more in one other country prior to arriving here. The administration also wants to bar asylum to anyone who has failed to timely pay U.S. taxes or who has been unlawfully present in the U.S. for a year or more.

It wants immigration judges to weigh someone’s illegal presence in the U.S. against them even though federal law specifically says people can seek asylum by crossing any part of the border and asking for it. And in addition to making fewer people eligible for asylum, it would give officers more power to deny initial asylum claims preemptively, with no need of a court hearing.

Critics of measure say the proposed changes would ‘represent the end of the asylum system as we know it.’

Credit: Nicolas Chamm / Getty Images

The new rules were quickly condemned to advocates like Families Belong Together, which called the proposed rule change “an assault on the fundamental right to seek asylum.”

“If fully implemented, they will gut years of progress in the U.S. to create bridges to safety for so many whose governments could not and would not protect them from severe harm and even death,” said a statement from Tahirih, which advocates for immigrants escaping gender-based violence.

The rule change would also put some of the most vulnerable people at increased risk of persecution.

Credit: Nicolas Chamm / Getty Images

For several years, the Trump administration has been working hard to keep asylum seekers from even reaching the U.S. border. As part of the government’s plan, the administration has signed ‘safe third country’ agreements with several Central American country’s – but several of these deals have shown to leave asylum seekers in increased danger.

In its deal with Guatemala, hundreds of non-Guatemalans have been sent to the country to apply for asylum there – predominantly women with young children, who may have well-founded fears of persecution. And the system has become so convoluted that many migrants and refugees were effectively compelled to abandon their asylum claims and return to the places they had fled in fear.

Meanwhile, at the U.S.-Mexico border, asylum seekers have been denied the most basic procedural safeguards, including the opportunity to present evidence or acquire a lawyer. Many had endured demeaning and coercive treatment by Border Patrol.

One Salvadoran woman told KITV that she was coerced into signing her “voluntary deportation” form at 2 a.m., believing it to be an asylum application. Soon afterward, officials chained her around her waist, ankles and wrists and sent her to Guatemala. “To them we are like bugs,” she said.

The new rules on asylum come just as the U.S. Supreme Court has said that Trump acted illegally in trying to end DACA.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled the Department of Homeland Security – and the Trump administration – had violated a federal administrative law with its policy ending DACA. DACA is the Obama-era program allowing undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to live and work legally in the US.

The decision came as a bit of a surprise as many expected the court’s conservative majority to strike down the program in favor of Trump. However, the ruling effectively leaves the program in place until Congress a can take up the legislative process behind immigration and get something done for the benefit of DACA recipients and the nation.