We should require citizenship before giving someone a badge and gun

While HB 3751 was presented as an “option” for law enforcement departments, it’s actually a mandate to hire non-citizens as police officers.

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As our nation’s issues become more polarized, unhelpful partisan rhetoric and accusations continue to crowd out thoughtful debates on advancing public policy.

Unfortunately, last week Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who appears to be playing to a national audience in his quest for higher office, falsely asserted that Illinois Senate Republicans were liars for discussing the negative impacts of, and voting against, HB 3751, legislation to allow non-U.S. citizens to become police officers in Illinois.

In opposing the removal of the long-held requirement that deputy sheriffs and police officers in Illinois be United States citizens, the Senate Republicans focused on three well-founded objections when the legislation was presented for a vote in the Illinois Senate.

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First, this legislation — as intended and as written — would empower non-citizens with the lawful authority to arrest U.S. citizens in Illinois. This concept was philosophically opposed by most members of our caucus and the constituents they serve.

Second, some claimed the legislation was symbolic, and no non-citizen would be able to become a police officer in Illinois without a change in federal law regarding non-citizen firearm possession. We believe this is inaccurate and this legislation is not merely symbolic. Due to HB 3751’s passage, non-citizen residents lawfully present in the United States on immigrant visas (which are issued to foreign nationals wishing to live in the United States permanently) will now also be eligible to be police officers in Illinois.

Finally, we opposed HB 3751 as a mandate on all local law enforcement departments in Illinois. Any department that does not want to participate in the lax standard could be opening themselves up to significant legal and financial risks. Under the Illinois Human Rights Act, it is a civil rights violation in this state for an employer to refuse to hire an otherwise qualified applicant for a position on the basis of their citizenship or work authorization status.

Therefore, with this new law, if a local sheriff/police department refused to consider a non-citizen for a position as a police officer, their organization would potentially be subject to civil liability. While HB 3751 was presented as an “option” for law enforcement departments, this legislation is actually a mandate to hire non-citizens as police officers.

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There is no denying the policy changes in Illinois that continue putting the rights of criminals above the safety of our families and the officers sworn to protect them has caused law enforcement departments to struggle with recruiting qualified police officers. However, just as we require U.S. citizenship to be a member of the Illinois General Assembly, we should require someone to be a U.S. citizen before putting a badge and gun in their hand.

Having to obtain citizenship before being vested with the immense responsibility of law enforcement authority is sound public policy that the state should not turn away from.

The majority of our colleagues in the General Assembly disagreed, and voted to pass HB 3751, which the governor signed into law last week.

While we have a fundamental disagreement on this issue, these disagreements are not “lies,” and a full discussion of these policy disagreements strengthen, rather than weaken, our democratic society.

John Curran (R-Downers Grove) is the Illinois Senate Republican leader.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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