Illinois bill to allow DACA recipients to become police officers


Illustration by Emily Lichty

Some Illinois municipalities already hire DACA recipients to the police force on a case-by-case basis, but a new Illinois bill will open the opportunity to the entire state.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

Amid staffing shortages in police departments across the country, a new bill in Illinois will clear the path for DACA recipients looking to become police officers.

State Rep. Barbara Hernandez (D-Aurora)introduced the bill in the Illinois House of Representatives and said it has dual purposes.

“My hope is to not only help DACA recipients but also help the police departments that are currently going through a lot of shortage with … either COVID or retirement,” Hernandez said.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program that started under the Obama administration, provides temporary deportation protection and work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old.

There are an estimated 400,000 undocumented immigrants living in Illinois, around 30,000 of whom are DACA recipients, according to Nina Sedeño, an immigration policy analyst at Chicago-based advocacy organization Latino Policy Forum.

Hernandez said her inspiration came from a similar bill that went into effect in California earlier this year. There are also several municipalities in Illinois, including Fairmont City and Blue Island, that already hire DACA recipients to the police force on a case-by-case basis, so she wanted to introduce a statewide law, she added.

But, federal law does not permit DACA recipients to carry firearms. That law became the center of debate on the bill in the Illinois House, which passed an amendment specifying that potential hires need federal approval to carry a firearm after they are hired.

“Unfortunately, we will need to see some federal government action,” Hernandez said. “I’m not saying everybody. Just allow those that are applying to be an officer, if they are hired, to be able to have a gun on duty and off duty.”

The Illinois House voted unanimously to pass HB3751; and the bill currently awaits a vote in the Illinois Senate. If passed, Illinois will join several other states, including Utah and Colorado, in opening police positions to those other than citizens and permanent residents.

State Rep. Cathy Kipp (D-Fort Collins, CO), the House sponsor of the Colorado bill, said her bill differs from Illinois’ in that it would allow both DACA recipients and asylum seekers to become police officers.

The idea for the bill originated when a constituent, who is a DACA recipient, reached out to Kipp about his desire to become a police officer, she said. She then reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Safety and found that it has received many similar requests.

“We didn’t want to do just a one-off exception that has been done in other states,” Kipp said. “So this bill gets more applicants to apply to be peace officers, and it increases the diversity of those applicants.”

Kipp said the restrictions on firearm possession were also a roadblock for the Colorado bill. However, Kipp said the state found an existing exception in federal law that addresses the issue. 

According to a memo Kipp shared with The Daily, federal law allows federal and state departments and agencies to “authorize the use and possession of a firearm as they see fit.” This would allow police departments to issue firearms to a police officer “as long as the individual stays within the department or agency authorization,” the memo reads.

For Evanston Police Department Cmdr. Ryan Glew, hiring foreign-born applicants is a longstanding practice. He said EPD currently has one sworn member who is not a U.S. citizen. 

“If you go back 150 years in law enforcement, a lot of people that immigrate here have become police officers,” Glew said. “I think the concept generally is nothing new to law enforcement.”

Since HB3751 has yet to pass the Illinois Senate, Glew said EPD hasn’t begun discussing the selection process for applicants who are DACA recipients. Those conversations will start when the bill is passed, he added.

In addition to this bill, Hernandez said she is also advocating for legislation that would allow DACA recipients to apply to be firefighters, which she hopes will pass later this year. 

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for many people to expand on jobs that they couldn’t do at all,” she said. “(DACA recipients) have federal proof to work and social security … so I’m just trying to open those doors for them.”

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Twitter: @caseeey_he

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