Citizenship requirement will be waived for many L.A. County government jobs

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LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - FEBRUARY 18: Los Angeles Board of Supervisor, First District: Hilda Solis speaks during the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting in the Keninneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Los Angeles, Calif. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority today announced a method to address homelessness and supportive housing availability that is similar to natural disaster responses. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Board of Supervisor Hilda Solis wrote a motion that allows the county to begin hiring immigrants without citizenship as county department heads along with other positions when state and federal law doesn't mandate citizenship. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

U.S. citizenship will no longer be a requirement for many Los Angeles County government jobs, including department heads.

On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion allowing the county, with a few exceptions, to hire noncitizens to lead county agencies — excluding the chief probation officer — and for any other county jobs where state or federal law doesn't mandate citizenship.

Immigrants who lack legal status remain ineligible to work for the county.

Tuesday's motion, by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, extends eligibility for county jobs to lawful permanent residents and those with work permits.

The motion directs staff to remove citizenship as a requirement for county positions, unless otherwise mandated by state or federal law.

Department heads will be allowed to appoint immigrants without citizenship as their deputies when not barred by state or federal law.

"By removing citizenship requirements, the county will gain access to a larger pool of qualified applicants with varied life experiences that can help enhance current services," Solis, the board chair, said in a statement. "This decision is rooted in a larger vision to bring diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of everything that we do at the county."

Solis had hoped the county could waive citizenship requirements for disaster service workers, but state law governs those positions and excludes lawfully employed immigrants.

Immigrants make up 35% of the population in L.A. County. With about 110,000 employees, the county government is one of the largest employers in the region.

Some details of the county's plan weren't made public. The county chief executive office and Solis' and Kuehl's offices declined to share a June report with The Times, stating it was protected by attorney-client privilege because it was drafted by county attorneys.

At a prior Board of Supervisors meeting, Andrés Dae Keun Kwon, policy counsel and senior organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the board that when he graduated from UCLA School of Law, his dream was to work at the L.A. County public defender's office.

"But I was not a U.S. citizen, and so I was shut out," he said.

He went on to work in immigrant rights at the ACLU.

"The county workforce should reflect the people they serve, and nowhere is this more important than at the public defender's office," he said.

Public Defender Ricardo García, the son of immigrants and the county's first Latino public defender, said in a tweet that the crucial role of his office in the lives of indigent residents "makes it essential that the hiring process allows for onboarding the best and most diverse candidates."

The board's decision was celebrated by other advocates for immigrants.

Victor Narro, a project director focused on immigrant workers at the UCLA Labor Center, said that waiving the citizenship requirement was a long time coming.

"The citizenship requirement is really from another time period, but it takes a while for local governments to realize that those requirements no longer reflect the diversity of the society we have," he said. "There are so many noncitizens that reside in L.A. County who are qualified or more than qualified for those jobs."

Narro, who teaches a public interest law seminar, said many law students who come from immigrant families aspire to be public defenders. He said the decision provides an opportunity for the county workforce to better reflect the community it serves.

"L.A. County can lead the way," he said. "My hope is that other counties will get rid of those citizenship requirements."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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