In late July, Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law that permits people who are not U.S. citizens to apply for jobs as police officers.
That law is garnering controversy online. Several posts, including one from Florida governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, claim that the new Illinois law allows “illegal immigrants” to become police officers in the state.
“People who are breaking the law by their presence here can now arrest American citizens,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) wrote in a viral post.
Is Illinois allowing ‘illegal immigrants’ to become police officers in the state?
These claims are misleading. The law allows non-citizens, including DACA recipients, to become police officers in Illinois. But they must be legally permitted to work in the U.S.
WHAT WE FOUND
The Illinois law known as House Bill 3751 does allow non-citizens to become police officers in the state. But, contrary to the online claims, they must be legally permitted to work in the United States.
“Undocumented immigrants are not allowed to become police officers in the state of Illinois,” Gov. Pritzker said during a press conference on July 31. “What we have allowed is…legal permanent residents and DACA recipients now to become police officers.”
Under the law, a person “who is not a citizen but is legally authorized to work in the United States under federal law” can apply for a job as a police officer or with a sheriff’s office. This includes people whose immigration enforcement has been delayed through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
Any non-citizen who is applying for a law enforcement job in Illinois must be allowed to obtain, carry or purchase a firearm, according to the state law. They must also meet the same requirements to become police officers as other applicants, including passing a background check.
Federal law prohibits employers from hiring someone who is not authorized to work in the U.S. But there are several ways people who aren’t U.S. citizens can legally work in the country.
A non-citizen can permanently live and work in the U.S. by applying for lawful permanent resident status and obtaining a Green Card.
They can also lawfully work in the U.S. by obtaining an employment-based immigrant visa. Approximately 140,000 immigrant visas are available to non-citizens every fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The DACA program protects eligible undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and provides them with work authorization for “temporary, renewable periods,” the Kaiser Family Foundation explains. There were more than 30,000 DACA recipients in Illinois as of March 31, 2023, USCIS data show.
Though DACA recipients can legally work in the U.S., the program does not grant them “lawful status” in the country, USCIS says.
Other departments, including Maine State Police, Colorado State Patrol and the New Orleans Police Department, also hire non-citizen officers.
A report from the nonprofit Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force found that police departments are turning to non-citizens to help deal with recruiting shortfalls and to diversify their ranks.