The appointment of two men in the United States illegally to commissioner positions in Huntington Park was met with mixed reaction when it was announced Monday night by the City Council.
Julian Zatarain, 21, won an appointment to the parks and recreation commission, while Francisco Medina, 29, was appointed to the health and education commission by Huntington Park Councilman Jhonny Pineda.
“I am proud to appoint both Julian and Francisco to the Parks and Recreation Commission and Health and Education Commission, respectively,“ Pineda said in a news release announcing the appointments. “Huntington Park is a city of opportunity and a city of hope for all individuals regardless of socioeconomic status, race, creed, or in this case, citizenship. Both these gentlemen have accomplished a great deal for the city."
The two Huntington Park residents did not meet the requirements set forth in President Barack Obama’s Executive Order of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, according to Pineda. And although they cannot vote in elections or run for an elected office, a city ordinance allows them to serve on the city commission provided they do it on a volunteer basis and don’t get paid, according to the Los Angeles Times and Pineda.
As such, the pair will not receive a stipend, which can range from $25 to $75 a month, the Times reported.
"The City Council appointed someone – not because they were undocumented or not – but because the background was really good for the position," Zatarain said after his appointment was announced at the meeting. “So that means that we’re doing something good, that means that we’re moving forward. We’re becoming a more progressive society.”
Zatarain arrived in the U.S. in September of 2007, and initially lived in South Los Angeles before his family moved to Huntington Park. He graduated at the top of his class from Huntington Park High School, where he acted as a campus representative for the school's ESL program, created the "Wise Up Club" to help find college preparation resources for ESL students and served as student body president, according to the release.
Additionally, Zatarain created the Huntington Park Red Cross Club and organized immigration workshops in the city, Pineda said. He is currently a student at Santa Monica College and aspires to attend law school.
Medina, who graduated from California State University at Dominguez Hill, has worked in the public sector and dedicated himself to improving lives of those who have been the "most marginalized," the release stated. He interned in the office of then-Assemblyman Gil Cedillo and has also organized free immigration forums to help working class communities.
According to Medina, the city has a large community of undocumented immigrants who will be "proud" of his appointment.
“Of course, we all pay taxes," he told KTLA after the meeting. "In Huntington Park, there’s a big community of poor undocumented, and the fact that I’m going to be part of it, I think they’re going to be so proud of it as well.”
But their status as undocumented immigrants has led to mixed reaction of the appointments.
"I don’t think they should be allowed in the country if they’re … if they haven’t been granted asylum by the United States government. Then they’re considered criminals I would say. Everybody that’s here illegally, right, would be considered a criminal,” said Louis Knickerbocker, who opposed the appointment.
And Robin Hvidston, the executive director of the Claremont immigration enforcement group We the People Rising, told the Times the appointments took seats from U.S. citizens, and also demonstrated a "lack of respect for U.S. law."
Others argued, however, that it is important for everyone -- citizen or not -- to have a say in their community and how it is governed.
"The environment of where corruption flourishes is an environment where there is almost always a low level of scrutiny in monitoring and accountability and that is always characteristic of low level civic engagement," Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, told the newspaper. "The participation in commissions is a logical and healthy step forward."
But while acknowledging that they can't vote or seek elected office, Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias said that they should be at least be able to participate in other ways.
"Our population includes documented and undocumented immigrants, and I wanted to make sure everyone could participate," Macias told the Times. "If we're going to talk about transparency, being open and having a community that's involved, then the conversation also has to include undocumented immigrants. I'm hoping other cities are looking at what we're doing here."