An undocumented lawyer to the rescue
This lawyer has lived as an undocumented immigrant in the United States for years, even receiving her license to practice. Although she could be deported at any time, she has decided to fight for those in her same circumstances.
(This story was originally published in The New York Times)
In America, only the states of California, New York, and Florida have allowed the licensing of undocumented migrants to work as lawyers. The matter is complicated because these advisers could "put their clients at risk", considering that the current government could withdraw their permission at any time.
This was reported in the New York Times, in an article that follows Lizbeth Mateo, a Mexican-born immigrant who received her lawyer’s license without proper documentation.
"Lizbeth, 33, was officially sworn in as a lawyer, taking an oath to uphold the United States Constitution. After years of flaunting her status as undocumented and openly defying immigration law, she is now part of the legal system and hopes to represent clients who, like her, entered the United States illegally", the report said.
Lizbeth's oath as a lawyer was presided over by California Senate leader Kevin de Leon, who called it "the embodiment of the American dream." But the political circumstances, in which the Mexican native of Oaxaca will try to exercise, are very complicated.
President Trump's new detention guidelines, the promise of a border wall, and the stigmatization of the immigrant as a source of all ills will make it much harder for a lawyer, immigrant and undocumented to be accepted within the US justice system.
While for Lizbeth this is a way to fight against "unfair" measures of the shift administration, for John C. Eastman, a constitutionalist and former Dean of the Champan University School of Law in California, her position is a legal paradox: “You’re taking the oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, while you are simultaneously breaking those laws. You’re violating the oath of office from the moment you take it – that’s a real problem”.
Likewise, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has stated in the voice of Ira Mehlman that "if you are in the country illegally, there is no reason why you should be able to exercise law".
And is that the categorization of "illegal" by the government has expanded considerably. Since the government issued its executive immigration order in January, a person who has used a false social security number to work also qualifies as a criminal, and now the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has made it clear that DACA does not guarantee legal protection. The response of people like Lizbeth Mateo has been to identify themselves publicly as undocumented, not only to attract clients but also "to tell their stories" and generate change.
"They want us to be scared," Lizbeth said in a speech to students at the University of California. "People say they are afraid, but we can’t be invisible. You're safer when you recognize your status, when you're connected to people who will know if ICE came for you in the middle of the night," she added.
The case of this immigrant is important to the thousands of citizens living a similar circumstance in the United States today. Lizbeth was also arrested in an attempt to re-enter the country after traveling to Oaxaca to visit her relatives, but demanded, along with eight other undocumented students, to be allowed to enter through the border crossing and to be able to seek asylum. After being released, she was able to argue her case in court as she began her studies, and her protest "sought to draw attention to the huge number of people who had been deported before the DACA was implemented, but several activists criticized her for having done so as a publicity stunt. "
Although her circumstance is delicate, since she has been denied the possibility of being part of DACA, Lizbeth has a group of federal lawmakers, university leaders and "an entire army of immigration lawyers" who are ready to defend her to the last consequences.
What should a citizen who has sought a better life in another country do if, despite being trained as a professional, she does not get the opportunity to exercise and grow just because of her immigration status?
This is a story that repeats itself in thousands of anonymous citizens, who chose to flee from the violence and political instability of their countries of origin to seek success in other horizons.
And is that not all "undocumented" are drug delaers, as not all residents are lawyers. The difference goes far beyond a residence permit; it’s simply in the value we attribute to opportunities.