A California city appointed two undocumented immigrants to city commission posts on Monday in a controversial step to give illegal immigrants a say in local government.
Julian Zatarian and Francisco Medina won appointments to the parks and recreation and health and education commissions, respectively in Huntington Park.
"I'm speaking out for people like me," Zatarain told The Los Angeles Times. "I'm not doing anything wrong."
Illegal immigrants in the U.S. cannot vote or seek elected office, but officials in the Los Angeles County city said the men's status shouldn’t stop them from helping the city in other ways.
"Our population includes documented and undocumented immigrants, and I wanted to make sure everyone could participate," Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias told the newspaper. "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."
State law doesn’t ban illegal immigrants from serving as appointed commissioners.
The appointments are believed to be among the first in the nation in which an immigrant without legal status in the U.S. has been appointed to serve in a government position.
During the Huntington Park City Council meeting on Monday, one woman shouted to city leaders, "You are out of order!"
Daniel Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for tighter immigration controls, called the appointments the "evolution of a breakdown in national immigration controls and the sanctity of American citizenship."
"Where does it end?" he asked Tuesday.
The Los Angeles Times reports that an increasing number of illegal immigrants in towns along the 710 Freeway in Los Angeles County have resulted in low voter turnout, with some elections seeing participation rates of below 10 percent in the last 10 years.
Zatarian, 21, and Medina, 29, will undergo full background checks, but will not receive a monthly stipend like other city commissioners receive. The stipend ranges from $25 to $75, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Experts told the newspaper the appointments reflect a strong effort in heavily Latino-populated cities to push for more inclusion of people without legal status to serve in public affairs.
The inclusion began at the state level with California issuing driver's licenses to people without legal status, which started in the beginning of this year. The state legislature also passed a bill that provides healthcare to immigrants who are in the county illegally.
Zatarian arrived from Sinaloa in 2007 when he was 13 years old. He has volunteered for the Red Cross and with another organization that helps youths get access to educational resources. The Santa Monica College student told the LA Times he chose the parks and recreation commission because he believes he can help the city provide better services for residents.
Medina crossed the border with his brother when he was 16 and is a college graduate who will serve on the health and education commission.
Neither was eligible to obtain legal status under President Barack Obama's recently announced deferred action program for the children of unauthorized immigrants brought to the country illegally.
"I never thought I had the possibility to participate in this way," Medina said. "I never imagined it, to tell you the truth."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.