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Blog Post: State Citizenship Laws Regarding Law Enforcement Hiring 

Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force   Blog

Police departments across the United States continue to face staffing shortages as they struggle to recruit and retain officers. A national survey conducted in 2022 by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) found that the number of new officer hiring was down 3.9% in 2021 compared to 2019 and there were 23.6% more officer retirements. The survey also found that there were 42.7% more resignations among officers in 2021 compared to 2019. Police officer shortages have had many consequences including increased officer burnout and response times, and even forcing some departments to suspend daytime patrols.

In response to staffing shortages, some police departments have turned to immigrants as important community members to recruit. California is the latest state to implement new laws that change citizenship eligibility requirements for law enforcement officers. Senate Bill 960 (SB 960), which went into effect on January 1st, 2023, states that anyone who has full federal legal work authorization can become a police officer, regardless of citizenship status. Previously, California law stated that an individual had to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to become an officer, which excluded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, asylees, and refugees. State Senator Nancy Skinner, the author of SB 960, explained that removing the citizenship requirement does not lower the quality of officers that are recruited because “they would still have to meet every other qualification,” including background checks and graduating from a police academy.

A similar story is evolving in Nevada where the legislature will be considering Assembly Bill 30 (AB 30) which would also allow noncitizens in the state to serve as officers. AB 30 would be applicable to 140,000 lawful permanent residents and 15,000 DACA recipients in the state. Jared Luke, director of government affairs and economic development for North Las Vegas, noted that AB 30 follows the footsteps of Assembly Bill 27 which allowed noncitizens to become teachers amid a similar shortage in that profession in Nevada. Recently, legislators in Colorado have introduced a bill that would seek federal authorization for DACA recipients to possess firearms in order to be  certified peace officers. If passed, law enforcement agencies in the state could recruit from the over 13,000 DACA recipients living in the state.

Utah set the precedent in western U.S. when the legislature passed Senate Bill 102 in 2021. Under SB 102, individuals can apply to be law enforcement officers if they are lawful permanent residents with work authorization and have been in the U.S. for at least five years. In an op-ed, Chief Mike Brown of Salt Lake City wrote that the bill would “increase diversity in our law enforcement, aid in our recruiting efforts and give smart, dedicated residents the opportunity to help serve their communities. It is also one step toward much-needed immigration reform on a federal level.”

Such legislation is not always successful the first time it is introduced.  After failing to pass last year, legislation allowing DACA recipients to become law enforcement officers in Wisconsin was reintroduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers earlier this month. In a 2020 LEITF blog post, former Green Bay Chief Andrew Smith wrote that “in a day and age where local law enforcement is clearly at a crossroads in many communities and the political rhetoric seems to cloud the national conversation, our coalitions’ local focus has seen wide-ranging and positive support. However, that support hasn’t been without challenges.” Still, as law enforcement agencies continue to face staffing shortages and work on strengthening relationships with their communities, advocating for the hiring of immigrants is a worthwhile endeavor.

An overview of jurisdictions that hire lawful permanent residents (LPRs) can be found here.

Written by Graciela Ponce

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