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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate gave final approval Thursday to a bill that would allow immigrants who are legal residents to serve as police officers — a privilege to serve that's already allowed to immigrants in the military.
Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne's SB102 made its way through the Legislature with no major opposition. It would change Utah law to allow a lawful resident of the U.S. who has lived in the U.S. for at least five years and has legal authorization to work in America to qualify to serve as a police officer.
The bill was supported by law enforcement groups as a way to diversify police departments while also opening opportunities to immigrants who aspire to give back to their communities.
Park City resident Junior Enrique Sanchez, who now works for the Park City Police Department as a citizen employee but doesn't qualify to serve as a police officer because he's a DACA recipient, spoke in support of the bill, telling lawmakers he's dreamed of becoming a police officer ever since he was a young boy.
Before the Utah House voted to approve SB102, Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, asked the bill's House sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, if there is a "good reason" why some legal residents haven't yet become U.S. citizens.
"Yes, because we have a completely screwed up immigration system," Ray said, "and it takes some people 20 something years to do that."
Thurston, who noted his wife and other family members have gone through the process to become legal permanent residents, said oftentimes money is a barrier to becoming a U.S. citizen.
Rep. Clare Collard, D-Murray, spoke in support of the bill.
"As someone who is a naturalized citizen, this is something that is very important to our immigrant community," she said. "I am very grateful for the opportunities that I have received in this country, and I think most permanent residents ... would be absolutely thrilled to serve their country in this way."
The House on Wednesday initially voted to give final passage to the bill, but later recalled it to include an amendment to remove the requirement for the legal resident be a "permanent" legal resident to serve as a police officer. Back in the Senate, Mayne supported the bill, and the Senate voted unanimously to concur with the change.
The bill now goes to Gov. Spencer Cox's desk for consideration.