Huntington Park made California history Monday night, becoming the first city in the state to appoint two undocumented immigrants to city commission boards.
Huntington Park City Councilman Jhonny Pineda appointed 29-year-old Francisco Medina to lead the parks and recreation commission and 21-year-old Julian Zatarian to lead the health and education commission. Both men were born in Mexico. The two men are not covered under President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive action known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which would have allowed some immigrants to receive deportation relief and work authorization in two-year increments.
According to the Huntington Park city government website, Medina’s role will be to advise the city council on the acquisition, use, maintenance, and operation of parks, playgrounds, and other public recreational facilities, and to maintain a planned program of public recreation for the city’s residents. Zatarian’s role will be to create awareness, determine needs, and attempt to implement plans for improved health and education matters in the city.
The city attorney cleared the appointments, confirming that commissioners don’t need to be registered voters or documented citizens. The Huntington Park city government website also states that no more than two of the five city commissioners can live outside city limits. Both Medina and Zatarian are Huntington Park residents, who will serve up to four years on their respective advisory boards.
“Undocumented immigrants in this country and this city doesn’t [sic] have the voice that they deserve,” said Zatarian.
“I live in this city. I behave like a citizen,” he continued. “When it comes to helping the city, I don’t think it matters what’s your race or your status in the country.”
Of course, not everyone was thrilled about Medina and Zatarian’s desire to better serve their community through civic engagement. At the council meeting where the two were appointed, a woman accused Medina and Zatarian of “breaking the law”:
“We’re sending the wrong message: you can be illegal and you can come and work for the city.”
But as usual, the anti-immigrant types aren’t all the great with the facts. City officials have already clarified that Medina and Zatarian — due to their legal status — will not be paid the monthly $75 stipend given to other city commissioners.
And, as Lee notes in her piece, one has to wonder if the woman also voiced a similar complaint when the city manager (and U.S. citizen) of nearby Bell actually did break the law in a multi-million dollar corruption scheme that nearly bankrupted the small town (the ex-official is now barred from public office for life and is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence).
Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias stood by the appointments, stating, “They have every right to be at that table, because they are part of our community, and I’ll leave it at that.”
And with Latinos accounting for a staggering 97% of the population of Huntington Park (and at least half are immigrants), the appointments give the Latino and immigrant communities who help keep Huntington Park running an important voice and seat at the table.
“I’m here just to do my best,” Medina beautifully summed up. “I’m willing to work hard.”