David Morales-Rosales moved to the United States with his parents when he was 7 years old. All his life he dreamed of becoming a police officer. Morales-Rosales completed a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Seattle University in 2018 and was hired as a Seattle University public safety officer while he sought opportunities in law enforcement.
Morales-Rosales met with an enormous obstacle that most other criminal justice graduates do not: Morales-Rosales is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipient. DACA, established by President Barack Obama in 2012, provides temporary protection from deportation, work authorization and the ability to apply for a Social Security number for undocumented immigrants, often referred to as “Dreamers,” who came to the U.S. before age 16.
In 2017, President Donald Trump made the decision to end the DACA program. In 2018, a federal appeals court ruled that the Trump administration must continue DACA and the matter is now with the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to rule on the issue in 2020.
Morales-Rosales did not let this obstacle stand in his way. He researched agency-hiring practices across the United States and reached out to criminal justice professionals to find a pathway a DACA recipient could pursue to become a law enforcement officer.
Morales-Rosales learned about officer Germain Martinez Garcia, a police officer in Fairmont City, Illinois. Garcia is a DACA recipient who came to the United States when he was 6. Fairmont City Chief Scott Penny recognized Garcia’s potential while Garcia was an intern at the police department. Fairmont City is 70% Hispanic. Chief Penny hired Garcia in 2016 after making phone calls around the state to see how he could work with the existing laws restricting the hire of DACA recipients. Chief Penny’s rationale for hiring Garcia: “What we try to do here is make the police department look like the faces of the people in the community.”
After searching for opportunities for more than a year, Morales-Rosales was ecstatic to find a supportive chief in Colorado Springs who, like Chief Penny, was willing to give him a chance. Morales-Rosales was hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department earlier this year. He moved his family, including his wife who was pregnant, and two small children from Seattle to Colorado and had his third child there. Morales-Rosales entered the Colorado Police Academy and was on his way to fulfilling his dream. Five weeks later, the academy discovered that Morales-Rosales could not be certified to carry a firearm under Colorado state law requiring U.S. citizenship to carry a firearm. Morales-Rosales and his family returned to Seattle and to his position as a Seattle University public safety officer.
DACA recipients cannot be hired as law enforcement officers in Washington state because of a similar law that says that a person must be a U.S. citizen to carry a firearm.
Laws vary across states and in some cases the decision is up to individual agencies. Chicago and Hawaii allow any immigrant with a work permit to become a police officer and in Vermont and Colorado legal permanent residents or green card holders can be police officers.
Police departments need to mirror the communities they serve. The U.S. Hispanic population reached a record 59.9 million in 2018. Hispanics make up 18% of the United States population and are the second largest racial or ethnic group behind whites. Hispanics of Mexican origin are the largest share of any origin group, accounting for 63.3% (36 million) of the nation’s Hispanic population.
Officer Martinez Garcia in Illinois remains the only DACA recipient to have successfully obtained a position in law enforcement in the United States. Morales-Rosales is the second DACA recipient to be admitted into a police academy. Morales-Rosales and Officer Martinez Garcia are who we need in law enforcement. Law enforcement hiring has slowed significantly in the last decade. Agencies are in dire recruiting situations unable to fill the ranks, let alone with officers who mirror the communities they serve.
The Pacific Northwest has earned its reputation for progressive politics and for leading the nation on difficult and controversial social issues. If there is any place where we can, and should, create a path for DACA recipients to be hired as law enforcement officers, it is Washington state. Let’s change the law and create opportunities for police chiefs to be able to hire recruits like David Morales-Rosales who will make our communities safer places.