LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Karina Macias was elected mayor of Huntington Park, a small city in Los Angeles County, she noticed that many of its commissions were no longer active.
The reason: Lack of interest.
So the Huntington Park City Council put out a call for new applicants. This time, they told residents in the city with a majority Latino population that anyone could apply — regardless of immigration status.
On Monday, two immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally were appointed to serve on city commissions.
"They bring a lot to the table," said Macias, who was elected mayor two years ago. "And it really empowers, or at least gives a voice, for those undocumented in the community."
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.
People who are in the country illegally cannot vote or seek elected office. In accordance with the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, U.S. employers are prohibited from hiring anyone they know is not authorized to work in the country.
City leaders said their appointments are permitted because both new commissioners have agreed to serve as volunteers without pay.
Nevertheless, the appointments struck a controversial note.
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.
One appointee, Julian Zatarain, 21, will serve on the parks and recreation commission. The college student came to the U.S. when he was 13 from the Mexican state of Sinaloa and has volunteered with the Red Cross.
The other, Francisco Medina, 29, 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 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."
Huntington Park commissioners generally receive a monthly stipend of $25 to $75.
Carl Shusterman, an immigration lawyer, said that by not getting paid, both men could bypass required forms showing they are authorized to work in the U.S.
"I guess the city is saying, 'Well, they're volunteers so we don't have to go through the process. Which is correct," the lawyer said.
Both men will still have to undergo background checks.
Huntington Park and other working-class communities along the 710 Freeway are home to large numbers of immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. Many are in the country illegally.
Those demographics have resulted in lower-than-average voter turnout, the Los Angeles Times reported (http://lat.ms/1JK6NG4 ).
"We are letting people know it doesn't matter if you are undocumented or not," Zatarain said. "You can be an engaged resident of this city."
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/