Democrat-backed bill would allow noncitizens to serve as law enforcement

(The Center Square) — The right to serve as law enforcement shouldn’t belong solely to U.S. citizens, but also to individuals who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, according to Senate Bill 69. 

The legislation passed the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate.

DACA was passed under President Barack Obama and allows people between the ages of 15 and 41 who were brought or came to the U.S. illegally before 2007 and before the age of 16 to stay, and authorizes them for work.

Though it allows certain immigrants to stay, DACA does not provide a pathway to citizenship, according to think tank KFF.

Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, patroned the bill and shared stories of young people from his district who grew up in the U.S. thanks to DACA who want to be police officers. One young woman wanted to be a police officer ever since she saw one handing out toys at her elementary school.

“From that point, she pursued and gained a higher education degree in criminal justice, only to get to the point where she has passed criminal background checks and is moving through the process and applied through waivers to become a police officer, only to be denied her dream,” McPike said.

McPike’s Prince William County is the most diverse county in Virginia and the 10th most diverse in the country, according to 2020 U.S. Census data. Along with the rest of Northern Virginia, the county has seen a rise in crime in recent years while struggling to hold onto law enforcement personnel since 2020. Prince William’s police department saw a 40% reduction in applicants after the death of George Floyd, according to its Chief of Police, Pete Newsham.

In response, the police departments of Prince William, Arlington and Fairfax counties, along with Alexandria and Washington, D.C., have developed incentives they’re hoping will attract new talent. Prince William is currently offering a $10,000 hiring bonus and salaries starting at $62,000, according to the department’s website.

Newsham supports the legislation.

“There are many DACA recipients and potential police recruit candidates who meet and exceed the hiring qualifications and possess the necessary skills and abilities to serve as the next generation of police officers. Their only barrier to being hired is their citizenship status,” Newsham said. “I truly believe this bill is in the best interests of our community, police departments and the many members of our community who possess a strong spirit of citizenship and deep commitment to public service.”

Republicans have generally voted against the bill as it has passed through the Senate and House, though some have abstained.

Del. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, gave an impassioned speech from the House floor on Wednesday, sharing his biggest reason for objecting to the bill.

“The basic, overarching point here, Mr. Speaker, is that we – regardless of party affiliation – should be standing united against a federal government that has created this problem by virtue of an unwillingness to address its very own failed federal government policies,” Garrett said.

“Regardless of how we feel about hardworking residents of the commonwealth, one of our actual responsibilities is to demand the federal government do its job and you can’t do that and support this legislation,” he said.

The bill passed 53-47, mostly along party lines.

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