A union official said expanding the law enforcement hiring pool to DACA recipients could promote more diversity in the ranks. (Photo courtesy of Office of the Attorney General / Tim Larsen)
Lawmakers in New Jersey want to pave the path for some undocumented immigrants to work in law enforcement, a strategy supporters say could alleviate staffing shortages in jails and prisons.
The bill would allow people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA, to become police officers, state and county correctional officers, and juvenile correctional officers. The federal program provides deportation protection and work permits to some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16.
New Jersey is home to an estimated 16,500 DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers. Under the program, enacted during the Obama administration, recipients have to renew their residency and work permits every two years.
William Sullivan is president of the New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 105, the union that represents the state’s correctional officers. Having a bigger pool of job candidates could relieve his “hiring crisis,” he said.
“I don’t see any issue with expanding our hiring pool to these categories,” he said in an interview. “I say the bigger the candidate pool, the better.”
Allowing DACA recipients to apply also could expand the diversity of officers who work in corrections, he added.
The bill would not change any standards for applicants. They still would have to pass background checks and medical and psychological exams, as well as complete the police academy.
People protected under DACA now cannot legally obtain a firearm under federal law unless it’s for “official use,” but the bill clarifies that qualified applicants would be entitled to carry a gun on the job.
California, Colorado, Utah, and Illinois recently acted to allow DACA recipients to become police officers. Legislators in Nevada and Wisconsin also are mulling similar measures.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) introduced the bill last week before the state Legislature broke for summer recess, and Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex) signed on as prime sponsor in that body. It has yet to be heard in committees in both chambers.
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