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Illinois opens police recruitment to non-citizens: Myth-busting House Bill 3751

Illinois is not alone in looking at this as one solution to the police recruitment crisis

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On July 28, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 3751. Critics quickly condemned this action, claiming it would allow illegal aliens to arrest American citizens. But is this true? Will this change allow illegal aliens to police American streets, or is it a valid attempt to address the recruiting crisis many departments face?

The recruiting crisis is real

Every department has faced the dire consequences of law enforcement’s recruiting crisis. Departments big and small cannot fill positions and are losing personnel to other agencies. Chicago is no exception. CBS News reported that between 2019 -2022 the Chicago Police Department lost over 3,300 officers but only recruited 1,600.

Departments have tried everything imaginable to recruit more applicants, such as higher pay, increased benefits, bonuses for lateral transfers and even lowering standards to include overlooking minor criminal offenses. Still, departments face historic staffing shortages, leading to longer hours for existing officers and higher levels of burnout.

House Bill 3752: Critics vs. the truth

With the passing of House Bill 3751, Illinois took an unusual step to help fill the gap – allowing non-US citizens to apply for law enforcement positions. Critics were quick to slam the bill as allowing “illegal aliens to become police officers” and “foreigners to arrest US citizens.” The first claim is a blatant lie. The second claim, while technically accurate, is phrased for sensationalism.

House Bill 3751 states that “an individual who is not a citizen but is legally authorized to work in the United States under federal law is authorized to apply for the position of police officer.” The bill also states that said individuals will still be subject to all other requirements and limitations necessary to apply for these positions. There will be no special testing or lowering of standards. Applicants must test with, compete against and be graded on the same level as all other applicants. The only change is they no longer need to be a U.S. citizen.

[RELATED: Can immigrants help solve the staffing shortages in California policing?]

A key point is the phrase “legally authorized to work in the United States.” This requirement disproves the claim that illegal aliens will become police officers. Even if an applicant were to try and lie about their status, it should be uncovered during the background investigation and, the same as any other applicant, disqualify them for consideration.

Illinois is not alone

While it is true that this bill could potentially allow non-citizens to arrest citizens, so what? Non-citizens can already serve in the military and be employed as firefighters, paramedics and other first responder positions. Why not law enforcement too?

Illinois is not alone in looking at this as one solution to the police recruitment crisis. Tennessee has allowed non-citizen military veterans to apply for law enforcement positions since 2015. California and Colorado passed bills very similar to Illinois’s earlier this year. States including Maryland, New York and New Jersey are considering doing so in the future.

The changes recently passed in California and Colorado are almost identical to Illinois Bill 3751. Applicants must be authorized to work in the United States, but otherwise meet all remaining requirements. Colorado’s change also required a change to the state’s firearm regulations, allowing non-citizens to carry a firearm if employed as a law enforcement officer.

Tennessee’s requirements are a little different in that it allows permanent residents to apply but adds the additional requirement that they be honorably discharged from the U.S. military. In addition, successful applicants must apply for citizenship within six years of being hired.

Then Nashville Metro Police Chief Steven Anderson proposed the idea, believing it would help bridge a gap with the immigrant communities. In 2015, when the law was changed, immigrants comprised approximately 15% of the city’s population. Drawing from those who first served in the military was something Anderson said made sense: “If someone is good enough to fight in the streets of Bagdad or Afghanistan, I think they are good enough for Lower Broadway.”

Most importantly, many of these potential applicants could be excellent additions to any department. Some, like those covered by DACA, arrived as small children. Although their parents were undocumented, these children have grown up in America, been part of their communities, and share the same dreams as their U.S. citizen neighbors. For some, this dream includes being a police officer. Like others with this dream, they have attended college, participated in Explorer posts, and worked in other related positions hoping to one day qualify to apply. One paper, they are an excellent candidate, except that paper does not say United States Citizen.


Critics have posed plenty of doom and gloom scenarios: Cartels shipping agents north to join local police departments, immigrants officers forming criminal gangs and outcry if a non-citizen officer shoots a citizen. Although these scenarios are possible, proper background investigations and vetting should cut off any attempts to take advantage of the new hiring parameters. Plus, we have unfortunately seen this and far worse with officers who were U.S. citizens.

In the end, American law enforcement is facing a crisis. Lowering the standards is not a long-term cure. Hiring qualified but less dedicated officers is not going to advance law enforcement as a profession. While allowing non-citizens is unlikely to completely fill the gap, it is a step in the right direction. It will not hurt that many of the applicants will be individuals who have long dreamed of a career in law enforcement, dedicated years to obtaining the necessary training and education, and are likely to be some of the most appreciative new hires your department hires.


Tom Burrell began his career in maritime enforcement in 1992 when he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, following his service in the USMC Reserves during Desert Storm. He would see service in Key West, (Fla.) Norfolk, Va., and New York City, both afloat and ashore with duties, which ranged from drug and alien interdiction to recreational boating safety. During this time he would serve in a variety of positions including boarding team member, boarding officer, boat crew, coxswain and master helmsman. Achievements include Coxswain “C” School Honor Graduate, numerous humanitarian service awards and involvement in several high profile joint operations — including the security for JFK International Airport during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the United Nations.

In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission as a Waterways Conservation Officer, a position that would include postings in Northcentral & Southeast Regions. In 2002 he was promoted to sergeant, in 2012 he was promoted to captain in the Special Investigation Section, and in 2015 was selected for LtCol and Assistant Bureau Director. As LtCol he was in charge of agency training, the agency academy, cadet selection and the Northern tier operations. He retired in 2023 and spends his time hunting, fishing and keeping up with the latest law enforcement developments.