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Non-U.S. Citizens To Become Police Officers In California

A new law proposed by Senator Nancy Skinner will allow non-US Citizens to become police officers in California. The bill has support from the California Police Chief’s Association and the California Public Defenders Association. 

“Existing law, with certain exceptions, prohibits a person who is not a citizen of the United States from being appointed as a member of the California Highway Patrol. This bill would remove that prohibition, and would make conforming changes,” the bill states. “This bill only allows those who are living here legally and have the legal ability to work here — through a visa, a green card — to become peace officers. I just want to be clear on that,” said Sen. Skinner at a March 22 Senate Public Safety Committee.

 The bill was authored by Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh and aims to address the state’s hiring shortage in the police force. 

Skinner said that the state should not oppose the bill on philosophical grounds, and asked those who oppose it to examine why they are doing so. 

She further claimed that the bill’s author, Ochoa Bogh, had justified its passage by citing similar policies in other states and asking if it was fair for California’s departments to be barred from hiring non-U.S. citizens when other states had allowed it for years without any issues. 

On Monday, March 8th, the California Senate passed a bill allowing non-U.S. citizens who are permanent residents to become police officers in the state of California. 

The bill was authored by Democratic State Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley and is part of a larger effort by the Senate Public Safety Committee to remove provisions that restricted non-US citizens from becoming police officers in the state. 

According to Senator Skinner, “This bill will allow us to choose from a larger pool of qualified candidates and ensure that our public safety personnel reflect the diversity of California’s population”.

The new California law allows non-U.S. citizens to become police officers and makes changes to the state’s requirements for peace officers. 

This bill amends the provision that prohibits employers from hiring immigrants unless they have a valid work authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

The bill also removes the requirement that applicants for peace officer positions must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents and authorizes non-citizens, who are authorized by federal law to become peace officers in California. 

The bill also makes conforming changes to address provisions that prohibit federal law from permitting U.S. employers to hold non-citizens in positions where U.S. citizens could otherwise hold them, such as becoming a police officer, if they are not authorized by federal law or regulation to do so. 

Last month, California State Senate Bill 797 was introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara to allow non-U.S. citizens to become police officers in the state of California. 

UC Davis Police Chief Joe Farrow believes that allowing non-U.S. citizens to become peace officers will help alleviate some of the staffing issues that many police departments are facing across the state. 

“People who are in this country with a federal right to work — regardless of how they got here —  they can do any job. They can be attorneys, firefighters, join the military, but they can’t be police officers in California,” Farrow said. “Why hold people back? This was the question that deserved some debate.” 

He added: “I noticed kids who were really distinguishing themselves in our academy, but they weren’t eligible to be peace officers.”

During the March 22 reading of the bill, it was stated that the California Police Chief’s Association and the California Public Defender’s Association supported the bill. 

The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, Research Association of California, and the Riverside Sheriff’s Office oppose the bill: 

“Aside from well-established legal precedent, becoming a United States citizen subjects the applicant to a thorough criminal background check conducted by the United States government. This ensures our government does not permit a violent felon, serious criminal offender, sexual predator, or someone with terrorist ties or propensities to live and work among our citizenries.”

– Riverside County Sheriff’s Office

The San Diego Police Officers Association voiced their concerns over the bill. 

“The San Diego Police Department has lost over 500 officers since July 2020. That’s drastic. We need everyone we can to be a cop. However, we are not in favor of reducing requirements and lowering standards,” said Sgt. Jared Wilson, who speaks as President and on behalf of the San Diego Police Officer’s Association.

Wilson said they were concerned about the new California law that changed the state’s police officer qualifications.

Senator Skinner spoke to NPR to give context to the bill. 

“Given that we allow this same category of people to serve in the military, to serve in so many other professions, there’s no reason to deny a person who is otherwise legally authorized to work from serving as a peace officer,” she said

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