Aurora lawmakers, top cops asks civil service commission to nix citizenship requirement for police, fire applicants

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AURORA | Several Aurora City Council members and top officials from the Aurora Police Department on Thursday urged the city’s Civil Service Commission to strike a rule that bars the local police and fire departments from hiring people who are not U.S. citizens.

Members of the city’s Public Safety Policy Committee unanimously asked Aurora’s five civil service commissioners to get rid of the standing citizenship requirement.

Thursday’s decision by council members marks the latest turn of the screw in a string of recent calls from Aurora police recruiters and at least one council member to remove the citizenship requirement.

“We believe that actually bringing … members of our community who are lawfully allowed to work here, into our police department would improve relations with our immigration and refugee communities,” Aurora Police Division Chief Harry Glidden said.  

About one in five Aurorans was born outside of the U.S., according to city data.

At-large Councilwoman Allison Hiltz asked the Civil Service Commission to discuss the requirement last month, claiming the rule hinders police recruiting efforts and unfairly discriminates against foreign-born residents.

“You can grow up here in Aurora and join the military and serve at Buckley (Air Force Base) and retire from Buckley, but if you want to work at your local police or fire department, it’s, you know — too bad,” Hiltz said. “Because whatever you did wasn’t good enough for us.”

If the current rule is reversed, it would only apply to people who are legally allowed to work in the country — likely I-9 visa holders, Glidden said. Recruits would also still have to pass a federal Criminal Justice Information Services background check. 

Natives of certain countries with poor diplomatic ties with the U.S. could still be precluded from applying, Glidden said, as their background would still be largely hidden.

The Civil Service Commission has twice parried queries from police about the citizenship requirement. Commissioners tabled the issue in January 2017, and bounced it to the public safety committee last month.

“We just wanted to hear the comments that you had on this particular topic to help give us some guidance,” Pam Turner, chairwoman of the Civil Service Commission, said at the recent committee meeting.

The citizenship requirement is not outlined in state law or municipal ordinances, according to city documents. It is only a civil service commission rule.

Commissioners could nix the requirement with a simple majority vote.

Outside of Aurora, there are four other agencies in the state that preclude non-U.S. citizens from applying to civil service jobs: the police departments in Denver, Loveland, Pueblo and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, according to city documents.

Other Front Range police and fire departments currently have immigrants in their ranks, Glidden said. 

He said the Thornton Police Department has officers from Australia, the U.K., Canada and Germany.

Aurora police asked 25 major city police departments across the country about their citizenship requirements; only three of them can hire immigrants with I-9 visas, according to Glidden.

He said the rule change could make Aurora a magnet for qualified, foreign workers.

“This would put us ahead of a fair number of (other cities),” he said. 

The Justice Department mandated the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office to toss out a citizenship requirement for deputies in 2013. The DOJ monitored the department for three years and required the agency to pay a $500 fine, according to city documents.

The DOJ also settled a probe with the Denver Sheriff’s Department for the same issue in 2016.

City documents pointed to similar settlement agreements in Oregon and Iowa.

The Civil Service Commission is expected to discuss the matter at an upcoming meeting.