HUNTINGTON PARK — “We are making history in Huntington Park,” Councilman Jhonny Pineda said Aug. 3, after he appointed two undocumented residents to city advisory commissions.
Pineda, who was elected to the City Council in March, appointed Francisco Medina to the Health and Education Commission and Julian Zatarain to the Parks and Recreation Commission. There was no council vote on the individual appointments.
Unlike other commission members, they will not receive a monthly stipend for attending meetings as that would be against federal law on hiring undocumented people, City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman. However, citizenship is not a requirement under the city ordinance, which also allows two non-Huntington Park residents per commission under new rules approved by the council earlier this year.
Medina and Zatarain were among several appointees who must now undergo background checks before they are sworn in, City Clerk Donna Schwartz said. Resumés of the appointees were not immediately made available.
Asked by Councilman Valentine Amezquita if citizenship status would be looked into, Police Chief Cosme Lozano said it would not, that the background check would concentrate on criminal records.
Most members of the audience who commented spoke against the appointments, but Pineda got support from Mayor Karina Macias, who said the undocumented have a right to voice their concerns about the community in which they live.
The City Council chambers were packed with television crews from several local stations as well as area newspaper and radio reporters. Pineda was personally interviewed by TV crews.
“You are exploiting undocumented aliens,” former Councilwoman Linda Carabali alleged. “It’s discrimination to make them work without pay.
“It’s not fair. Other commissioners will get a stipend. The message you are sending is wrong. It suggests to undocumented immigrants that they can get a job if they work for free.”
She said the appointments were to “repay friends who worked on your campaign,” referring to the March election which brought Pineda, Graciela Ortiz and Marilyn Sanabria to the council with strong backing from Macias, who was elected two years ago.
“This has been a project of mine for some time,” Macias said, adding, “I am proud of our actions. Illegals are part of our community. They have a right to be heard at the table.”
“This is very appalling,” Sandra Orozco said. “You are breaking the law. People with legal status have been removed from your commissions.”
Alex Reynoso, who lost his bid for the City Council in March also opposed the action.
“I am a U.S. veteran and I work with law enforcement agencies,” he said. “It is sad to see the city take away rights [of residents] that our troops fought for.”
One audience member, former Bell Gardens City Council member Sergio Infanzon, supported the move, saying “representing the rights of immigrants is important. It brings the community together. You are embracing the tradition of community involvement.”
“Although undocumented, the two appointees and others like them are part of the community. They help support it by paying sales taxes on everything they buy,” Pineda said in closing comments.
“They want to help our city at no charge. Our city works best when we are inclusive of all members of the community. They opted to volunteer.
“I will accept criticism. It’s part of life,” he added.