Police citizenship bill clears Senate

DENVER — It’s one thing to allow non-citizens help defend the United States outside of the country, but it’s something else entirely to have them enforcing laws on citizens within the nation, Republican senators said Friday.

In debating a bill that would require all Colorado law enforcement members to be U.S. citizens, Republicans said that should be a no-brainer basic requirement.

Democrats, however, said the issue goes much further than that.

“This is not the Colorado way and this is not a Colorado value,” Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said. “We heard the (bill’s sponsor) mention that you could be a dispatcher in a police department. You could have other jobs. Maybe you could be a janitor. But one thing you would not be able to aspire to is that of a police officer. I don’t think that’s the right message to send.”

The measure, SB120, ended up clearing the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate on an 18-17 party-line vote. It now heads to the Colorado House, where its future is much less certain. There, Democrats outnumber Republicans 37-28.

Sen. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, said the measure sends the wrong message to immigrants in this nation and everyone else around the world.

“Since our nation’s founding, there has been a discussion across the world, what is America like? What kind of a place is it?” Kagan said. “Friends of America say America is a welcoming, open, inclusive country that welcomes people and respects people whether they were born in the United States or not.”

The bill, however, sends the opposite message, Kagan said.

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley and a former Weld County sheriff, said if he were to move to Kagan’s birthplace, England, he couldn’t get a job in law enforcement because that nation doesn’t allow it.

Kagan countered that while it was irrelevant what other nations do, just to make a point he added that the United Kingdom just two days ago did away with a century-old law requiring its law enforcement members to be citizens.

Other Republicans said the argument that the nation allows non-citizens to be members of the military is a specious one, saying those service members are placed on a fast track to citizenship in honor of their service.

“We’ve all acknowledged here that citizenship has both its responsibilities as well as its privileges, and what we are saying here in this bill is that in order to use the coercive power of the state against the citizens of that very state, you must understand both the responsibilities and the opportunities that go with that,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs. “We are making a sharp distinction in our Constitution ... which always has made a distinction between the use of force outside of the boundaries of this country, and the use of force against those who are our fellow citizens.”

The bill includes a grandfather clause for those law enforcement agencies that currently have non-citizens on their force, such as in the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

Under that clause, those officers and deputies may remain in their jobs for five years, with an option for more time, as long as they are on a path toward citizenship.


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