(CNN) — Two undocumented immigrants will get to serve on city commissions in Southern California — drawing outrage from some residents.
Julian Zatarain and Francisco Medina are longtime residents of Huntington Park, a city of about 58,000 near Los Angeles that is 97% Hispanic or Latino.
In appointing them to city commissions, Huntington Park councilman Jhonny Pineda said the two men have a track record of volunteering in the community.
But the decision infuriated some residents who spoke out at a city council meeting this week.
One woman told CNN affiliate KCBS/KCAL that the decision sets a terrible example.
“We’re sending the wrong message: You can be illegal and you can come and work for the city,” she said.
But the councilman defended his selections.
“I am proud to appoint both Julian and Francisco to the Parks and Recreation Commission and Health and Education Commission, respectively,” Pineda said on his website.
“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.”
Pineda emphasized that the two undocumented commission members would not get paid, as that would be a violation of federal law. They also won’t have any power in determining city policy and will serve only advisory roles.
He said according to a city ordinance, “Zatarain and Medina are eligible to serve on the city commissions as long as it is solely volunteer work and both individuals do not receive financial benefits from the city.”
Mayor Karina Macias supported the appointments, KCBS/KCALreported.
During his run for office, Pineda promised voters he would create opportunities for the city’s undocumented immigrants, the affiliate said. Some have accused him of appointing the two men because they helped with his campaign.
But Pineda pointed to the two men’s history of volunteer work.
He said Zatarain, who arrived in the United States in 2007, graduated from Huntington Park High School with the highest GPA in his class. Zatarain now attends Santa Monica College and hopes to attend law school.
Zatarain also created the Huntington Park Red Cross Club “to make sure the community is ready in case of any emergency, and as president of Red Cross, organized multiple blood drives,” Pineda said.
Medina graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills and was an intern for the office of former California State Assembly member Gil Cedillo, Pineda said. He helped students with information about college admissions requirements and financial aid opportunities, the councilman said.
Medina said he would rather focus on his new position than argue with critics.
“I’m not going to say anything negative,” he told KCBS/KCAL. “I just happy for the opportunity that I have, and I’m going to do my best to represent every single resident in Huntington Park.”