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In a first for California, immigrants here illegally get seats in city government

In a move likely to heighten debate about illegal immigration, a Huntington Park city councilman said Monday he will appoint two immigrants in the U.S. illegally to become commissioners on city advisory boards.

The move is an effort to give people here illegally a voice in government in a part of Los Angeles County that has long drawn immigrants from Latin America.

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Several years ago, a neighboring city, Maywood, declared itself a "sanctuary city" for immigrants in the country illegally, generating national attention.

Jhonny Pineda, a councilman in the city in southeast Los Angeles County, said he will appoint Francisco Medina to the health and education commission and Julian Zatarain to the parks and recreation commission.

Commissioners typically receive a monthly stipend of $75, but neither of the appointees will be compensated, Pineda told The Times.

"If we want to share the same vision of Huntington Park, we want to bring everyone to the table," Pineda said. "These are well-qualified kids. They have been giving a lot without expecting anything in return."

Medina graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills and organized campaign events during Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo's 2013 election.

Zatarain arrived in the U.S. in 2007 and lived for two years in South L.A. before moving to Huntington Park, Pineda said.

After graduating first in his class from Huntington Park High School, Zatarain enrolled in Santa Monica Community College, Pineda said. One day Zatarain hopes to obtain a law degree, Pineda said. Like Medina, he has been active in his community by organizing immigration workshops and blood drives.

Immigrants in the country illegally are not excluded by law from serving on a commission, which serves solely as advisers to the city council, Pineda said.

City rules require commissioners to be residents of Huntington Park; however, the city council can allow up to two commissioners to be non-residents.

Both candidates must successfully complete Live Scan background checks before they are sworn into their posts.

Ric Loya, a former Huntington Park mayor, said he has no problem with the appointment.

Asked if he's worried about public perception regarding the appointment of two immigrants in the U.S. illegally:

"Donald Trump will have a field day with something like this," he said. "You're going to get people like Trump who are going to be mad, but on the other hand a lot of people who came here legally or illegally, they're going to say this is great."

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"Everybody can be involved in government, as long as it's done legally," he said. "I don't have a problem with it."

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno and @latvives

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