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Proposed California bill would allow non-citizens to become peace officers

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KION)-- A new bill is aiming to allow non-citizens to become police officers in California.

SB 960 aims to expand eligibility for peace officers.

"This bill would remove the provision that requires peace officers to either be a citizen of the United States or be a permanent resident who is eligible for and has applied for citizenship, and would make conforming changes," the bill text states. It would also change the law prohibiting those who are not citizens from joining the California Highway Patrol.

Ariadna Renteria Torres is an immigration attorney on the Central Coast. She says, "Other eligibility requirements are there, you know, they do have to be over 18, you have to meet the fitness requirements. You need to be fingerprinted by local, state and federal agencies... You need to prove that you are authorized to work."

The bill does not explicitly state that eligibility would only be expanded to legal immigrants. However, federal law already requires that any noncitizen seeking employment in the United States must be authorized to work in the country by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

SB 960, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner of the East Bay, says the bill aims to help with officer recruitment and retention challenges.

The bill was last read at a March 22 Senate Public Safety Committee hearing. At the hearing, Sen. Skinner commented, "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."

KION reached out to Skinner's office, which said the committee found that the bill "allows non-citizens with valid work authorization to obtain employment as peace officers in California."

The committee found those categories to include:

  • Permanent workers with immigrant visas based on employment
  • Asylees and refugees
  • and those protected under the Program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

However, Renteria Torres said the text of the bill does not explicitly state those exceptions.

"What this clearly says when you read the bill is permanent residents no longer have to worry about fulfilling the three-year requirement to become a citizen [to become a police officer]. It does not say explicitly that they're inviting others, that they are no longer going to require proof of status," Renteria Torres said.

The March 22 reading states that the bill has support from the California Police Chief's Association and the California Public Defender’s Association.

However, the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, Peace Officers’ Research Association of California, and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office are opposed to 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

"Application and getting the job is a huge difference," Renteria Torres added.

Three other states currently have no citizenship requirements for peace officers: Colorado, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Skinner's office said the bill will likely be voted on later this month.

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Lisa Principi

Lisa Principi is a reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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