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Huntington Park, California Appoints 2 Undocumented Immigrants as City Commissioners

Francisco Medina (L) and Julian Zatarain (Photo: EFE)

Francisco Medina (L) and Julian Zatarain (Photo: EFE)

A Los Angeles suburb is raising eyebrows and ire by appointing two undocumented immigrants to city commissioner positions.

The Los Angeles Times reports Huntington Park Councilman Jhonny Pineda announced at Monday evening’s city council meeting that he was appointing 29-year-old Francisco Medina to the health and education commission and Julian Zatarain, 21, to the parks and recreation commission. Both men are originally from Mexico and are in United States illegally.

“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,” Pineda said in a statement. “Both these gentlemen have accomplished a great deal for the city. For that, on behalf of the city council, mayor, and our city, I want to say thank you to them both and I am confident they will do an excellent job on their commission posts.”

Pineda cited their long history of volunteering for the city and the undocumented community as a reason for the appointments, as well as his campaign promise that he would create opportunities for the undocumented community in the working-class city of 59,000 residents located about six miles (10 km) south of downtown Los Angeles.

“These two gentlemen have thousands of hours of volunteer work,” Pineda told the Times. “They are qualified but it just turns out they are undocumented.”

“We need to make sure that we bring everyone together to the table here in Huntington Park so that we can make sure we’re sharing the same vision,” added Pineda.

Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias supports the appointments.

“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.”

Although the appointments are legal under California law, which does not bar people who are in the country illegally from serving as municipal commissioners, Pineda’s action has angered some residents of Huntington Park and many observers across the nation have been howling their disapproval.

CBS Los Angeles reports one woman stood and shouted, “You are out of order” to the city council as the appointments were announced.

“I don’t think they should be allowed in the country… if they haven’t been granted asylum by the United States government,” resident Louis Knickerbocker told KTLA. “Then they’re considered criminals I would say. Everybody that’s here illegally, right, would be considered a criminal.”

Robin Hvidston, executive director of the anti-undocumented immigration group We The People Rising, told the Times that Medina and Zatarain are taking jobs from American citizens, and that “to appoint commission seats to individuals who are breaking federal laws demonstrates… lack of respect for US law.”

Some objected to the move for different reasons, including that the men will not be paid for their work.

“A lot of residents who I spoke to don’t want this to happen,” Linda Caraballo, a former Huntington Park city council member, told KPCC. “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.”

Caraballo told the Times that “there are more qualified people” for the commission posts and that appointing two undocumented immigrants “is just going to bring media attention, it’s going to create national debate and it is something the city of Huntington Park doesn’t need.”

Others voiced their approval of the appointments.

“It’s all about inclusion in civic engagement and also about using the resources a city has, and the number one resource in any city are its people,” Loyola Marymount political science professor Fernando Guerra told the Times.

Zatarain, a college student whose goal is to become a lawyer and whose volunteer history includes work with the Red Cross and helping undocumented youth gain access to educational resources, insisted he “is not doing anything wrong.”

“I’m speaking out for people like me,” he told the Times.

Medina, a graduate of California State University at Dominguez Hills, has interned with then-Assemblyman Gil Cedillo and said his goal is to help those who are the “most marginalized” in society. He told KTLA that undocumented residents of his city will be “proud” of his appointment.

“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,” he said.

The historic move, which is pending the outcome of background checks for the two men, makes Huntington Park the first city in the nation to appoint undocumented immigrants as commissioners. California has been a national leader in providing access to services to its undocumented population, including drivers licenses, health care, in-state college tuition and even allowing them to practice law.

Many California municipalities have declared themselves sanctuary cities, offering varying levels of access to city services and protection from federal immigration enforcement. The state’s four largest cities—Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco—all have sanctuary policies in place.

“San Francisco is committed to providing safe access to public services to our communities, and is leading the way in making public services safe and accessible for everyone,” a former police chief and city supervisor inform viewers in a multilingual public service announcement advertising the sanctuary policy.

San Francisco’s sanctuary policy has come under intense fire from conservatives and opponents of undocumented immigration recently following the murder of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who was shot dead by an undocumented Mexican immigrant while walking on a popular pier with her father.

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