Jose del Rio has spent most of his life in Green Bay. His family came to the United States from Mexico when he was just 2 years old.
It wasn't until high school that what it meant to be an undocumented immigrant hit him, he said. His friends started getting their driver's licenses, then jobs. He wasn’t allowed to have either.
"When people say that I'm not American, that kind of hurts my feelings a little, but I've always told myself, 'with struggle comes strength,'" he said.
Growing up, Del Rio participated in the Green Bay Police Department’s explorers program, eventually leading it as captain. He interns with the department, and he studied to become a firefighter.
Now 21, del Rio has received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, so he can legally work in the U.S. And he’s hoping new legislation will help him achieve his dream of becoming a Green Bay police officer.
"I kept saying, 'I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to keep pushing forward and keep being the voice of other individuals that maybe don’t have the opportunity,'" he said.
At a news conference at the Green Bay police station, Reps. John Macco, R-De Pere, and David Steffen, R-Howard, introduced a bill Wednesday that would allow legal residents to become police officers and sheriff's deputies in Wisconsin. Currently, those roles are only open to U.S. citizens.
Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith is excited about the legislation, he said. He believes it’ll ultimately help make Wisconsin communities safer.
"Every time we have a retirement here at the Green Bay Police Department, it’s a struggle," he said. "And it’s not just here in Green Bay where it’s a struggle, but it’s a struggle across the state to fill those ranks of our police officers with top quality individuals."
His department is authorized to employ 194 officers, but it only has 179 because it’s difficult to find qualified candidates, Smith said. In addition to aiding with recruitment, he said he thinks the bill will help make Wisconsin police departments more representative of the communities they serve.
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