Aurora Police, Fire Departments Now Hiring Non-Citizens

American citizenship is not a requirement to serve in the U.S. military. All you need is a high school diploma, fluency in English and a green card. Citizenship is, however, required for landing a job in many police departments across the country, including, until very recently, the Aurora Police Department.

In early July, the City of Aurora altered its qualification requirements for police and fire jobs to allow non-citizen lawful permanent residents to apply, which includes anyone living permanently in the U.S. who is on the path to citizenship, like individuals with green cards or refugees.

"This change will widen the scope of who can apply as a police recruit or fire recruit in our diverse community. The change moves Aurora Police and Fire into the majority of agencies in the state who already follow this standard," a spokesperson for the City of Aurora says in a statement. As of July 16, two lawful permanent residents had applied to the police force.

“It’s important because it puts us into compliance with federal law," adds Councilwoman Allison Hiltz, who is on the city council committee that approved the initiative. She's referring to the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which forbids employers from discriminating against lawful permanent residents unless a federal, state or local law requires citizen applicants.

The switch was also a practical one. Earlier this year, the Aurora Police Department told the city's Civil Service Commission, which sets regulations regarding police and fire job qualification requirements, that it was struggling with recruitment numbers.

"We’re 100 officers short right now. Denver offers better pay, better benefits. They’re siphoning off our officers into their lateral program," says Aurora City Councilman Charlie Richardson. When a police officer with four or more years of experience joins the Denver Police Department, he or she starts out with an annual salary of $94,630. In Aurora, someone with similar qualifications makes $91,986 annually. Law enforcement agencies across the country, including large cities like Houston, are also considering non-citizen applicants due to recruiting shortfalls.

Denver's obstacle to allowing non-citizen law enforcement applicants, according to the city attorney's office, lies in a section of the city charter that reads: "Applicants [to the classified service]...shall be citizens of the United States, shall be of good moral character, shall be capable of performing the essential functions of the position to which they are seeking appointment, and shall meet all other qualifications and requirements as may be set forth by Commission rule." And changing the charter isn't simple. It requires a vote of the people of Denver via a question on the ballot, whereas all Aurora had to do was vote for the change via the city council's public safety committee.

Along with the Denver Police Department, only the Adams County Sheriff's Office and the Pueblo Police Department have citizenship requirements for applicants, according to an analysis by Aurora Police Department of metropolitan and large law enforcement agencies in Colorado.

In November 2016, the Department of Justice fined the Denver Sheriff's Department $10,000 for rejecting applicants based on citizenship status in 2015 and early 2016. As part of the penalty, the department had to consider rejected applicants for future job openings, and it now accepts non-citizen applicants because it was able to bypass the charter, which only addresses police and fire jobs. A spokesperson for the Denver Department of Public Safety said it would be "premature" for the department to take a stance on the issue, but that it would respect the will of the voters should a ballot measure ever be approved.

"We’re the most diverse city in the state, and we should have a police department that represents the communities that live here," Hiltz says of Aurora. "If we’re not opening up our applications, we’re not going to achieve that representation.”
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.