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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 14, 2018

Headline exaggerates appointment of undocumented immigrant in California

A headline exaggerates about a state appointment of an undocumented immigrant in California.

"It begins: California appoints first illegal alien to state office -- Trump has a better plan," said a May 10 headline on The Breaking Dawn.

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While the story itself has some accurate information, the headline is misleading.

An undocumented immigrant, Lizbeth Mateo, did receive an official appointment by the state of California. But the headline creates a misleading impression by omitting key information about the nature of her post.

She is serving in an unpaid position on a 12-member advisory committee, and she wasn’t the first undocumented immigrant to get such an appointment.

Mateo, a 33-year-old Los Angeles attorney, is a well-known immigrant activist. In 2013, she participated in a group called the Dream 9, comprised of undocumented immigrants from Mexico who were raised in the United States. The group left for Mexico and then tried to re-enter the United States by seeking asylum as a protest. Mateo was held at a detention center in Arizona before she was released.

We found no contact information on the website of The Breaking Dawn, a site that is supportive of President Donald Trump and includes several stories raising alarm about "illegal aliens."

Mateo’s appointment

In March, the California Senate Rules Committee appointed Mateo to the California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee, known as Cal SOAP.

The committee advises the California Student Aid Commission on efforts to increase college access for poor students.

Mateo didn’t respond to an email and message from PolitiFact, but she told the media in a March statement that "while undocumented students have become more visible in our state, they remain underrepresented in places where decisions that affect them are being made."

Appointees serve at the pleasure of the Senate Rules Committee, so she will serve until she is replaced or steps down, said Dan Reeves, chief of staff to Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León.

Mateo was appointed one day after Trump visited California and slammed the state’s sanctuary policies.

The Sacramento Bee reported that Mateo was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and came to the United States with her parents when she was 14. She graduated from Santa Clara University School of Law in 2016 and passed the California bar exam the next year. (Undocumented immigrants are allowed to apply for the bar in California.)

The Senate initially announced that the appointment was a first for the state, but Senate officials later clarified that, in 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown named a student in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to the California State University Board of Trustees.

Reeves said that he believes Mateo is the first undocumented immigrant not protected by DACA to receive a statewide appointment.  

Mateo told NPR that when she applied for DACA, the Obama administration wanted her to explain why she left the country during the Dream 9 protest. She said the administration denied her DACA application.

Some California lawmakers want to increase civic participation of undocumented immigrants. If it passes, SB 174 would allow for all California residents, including undocumented immigrants, to receive appointments to state and local boards and commissions that are not merely advisory.  Mateo was appointed to an advisory committee, so SB 174 would not affect that appointment, said Michael Soller, spokesman for state Sen. Ricardo Lara, a sponsor of the bill.

Our ruling

A headline said, "It begins: California appoints first illegal alien to state office."

Mateo is an undocumented immigrant and did receive a state appointment. But the headline doesn’t fully capture her role: she will serve in an unpaid position on a 12-member advisory committee about improving college access for poor families.

Also, although the state Senate initially said Mateo’s appoint was a first, it later found that the governor had appointed another undocumented immigrant to a state board in 2016. The other immigrant had federal protection from deportations, while Mateo does not.

We rate this headline Half True.

Our Sources

The Breaking Dawn, "It begins: California appoints first illegal alien to state office -- Trump has a better plan," May 10, 2018

Los Angeles Times, "'Dream 9' members freed to seek asylum," Aug. 7, 2013

Sacramento Bee, "Undocumented immigrant appointed to state post in California," March 15, 2018

Sacramento Bee, "Undocumented immigrants could serve on California boards under new bill," April 30, 2018

NPR, "How this undocumented lawyer is breaking more ground with no safety net," March 28, 2018

California Senate, Senate Bill 174, 2017-18

Law Office of Lizbeth Mateo, Website, Accessed May 11, 2018

California Student Aid Commission, California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP), Accessed May 11, 2018

Interview, Dan Reeves, Chief of Staff to President Pro Tem Emeritus Kevin de León, May 11, 2018

Interview, Michael Soller, spokesman for state Sen. Ricardo Lara, May 11, 2018

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Headline exaggerates appointment of undocumented immigrant in California

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