HUNTINGTON PARK, Calif. -- The debate over immigration reform has turned red hot in Huntington Park. The city has just filled two positions with people who immigrated to the United States illegally.
Tensions boiled over at Huntington Park's city council meeting Monday night because of the city's decision to appoint two undocumented immigrants to its advisory commissions.
Julian Zatarain is now a member of the parks commission. He sneaked into the United States from Mexico when he was 13 to be with his mother.
"I want to do something better for my city, and that I want to represent everyone, including the undocumented community," he said. But he was also asked if he takes responsibility for breaking federal laws.
"The fact that I'm here illegally, I understand that, but it's a reality that we have to deal with," he said. "I want people to understand that we come here wanting a better future and once we're here we love this country. The only thing we want is to make this country proud of having us here."
Undocumented immigrants make up more than 15 percent of the population of Huntington Park. Mayor Karina Macias says it's time to give them a voice in city government. But is she sending the message that breaking the law can be rewarded?
"I don't think so," she said. "You're not going to get rid of them. You're not going to deport them. So what do you do? You have to engage these individuals in a positive way."
Those opposed say illegal immigrants don't deserve the benefits of citizenship, including Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
"If you start giving out those benefits like they're candy, not earned," he said. "Ultimately you destroy the value of citizenship and the basis of our American democracy."
The mayor said she opened those positions to undocumented immigrants in part because too few legal residents were applying. Federal law prohibits them from being paid. So these two new commissioners in Huntington Park are unpaid volunteers.