City officials in Huntington Park appointed two new city commissioners Monday night; neither have legal immigration status in the United States.
City Council member Jhonny Pineda appointed Julian Zatarain to the Parks and Recreation Commission, and Francisco Medina to the Health and Education Commission. He said both men have a long history of community service, including the organizing of citizenship clinics.
"They have been community volunteers for a lot of years," Pineda said. "They've always given to the community...they just happen to be undocumented."
In a packed council meeting Monday, residents spoke out for and against the appointments. One man praised city officials for their courage, while a woman accused them of "breaking the law."
Pineda said he checked with the City Attorney's office and found nothing barring either man from serving as commissioners. Unlike other commissioners, however, they won't receive a nominal monthly stipend awarded by the city.
Linda Caraballo, a former council member, spoke out against the appointments.
"A lot of residents who I spoke to don't want this to happen," she said. "I think it is exploitation. Why is it that an undocumented illegal person is told you can take a position but we are not going to pay you? That is wrong."
If there's any local municipality that can be characterized as a community of immigrants, Huntington Park is one: Its population is 50 percent foreign-born, according to census data. More than 97 percent of its residents are Latino. The large majority of its merchants are also Latino, nearly 63 percent.
A spokesman for Pineda said the appointments would make Huntington Park the first California city to appoint commissioners who don't have legal status.
Zatarain and Medina are both under 30. Both were born in Mexico. According to a statement from the City of Huntington Park, neither man met the requirements for temporary legal status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the 2012 federal program that allows some young immigrants a two-year reprieve from deportation.
Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias spoke out in favor of the men joining the city commissions.
“They have every right to be at that table, because they are part of our community, and I’ll leave it at that," she said, as members of the public applauded during the meeting.
Zatarain is a student at Santa Monica College who hopes to attend law school. He attended Huntington Park High School, where he created a group to help English-learner students access college-prep resources. He's also been active with the local Red Cross. Medina is a graduate of Cal State University Dominguez Hills who interned for former state Assembly member Gil Cedillo.
The appointments are expected to generate blowback. Perhaps in anticipation, Pineda said Monday "We do respect federal laws and state laws in Huntington Park," and reiterated that the two appointees would serve only in a volunteer capacity.
This story has been updated