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Marlen Garcia: Long overdue: Non-citizens on the police force

If you are an immigrant in the U.S. and have a green card, you are a permanent legal resident entitled to just about all the freedoms this country affords its citizens.

This means you came here lawfully. It says the federal government vetted you and gave you the OK to live here forever as long as you don’t break the law. It tells employers you can work here. The military says that permanent legal residents can be trusted to serve and protect this nation. Last year there were about 25,000 non-citizens serving in the military.

You can do just about everything citizens can do, except vote, run for elected office or, in many cities, become a cop. It’s way past time to get rid of the rule that bans green-card holders from joining police forces, and some cities want to do just that as they try to improve relations with immigrant communities and make their police departments more representative of the populations they serve.


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Mt. Prospect, a northwest suburb, tried last year to end its citizen-only requirement for police officers but backlash from residents and out-of-town Tea Party-types proved too fierce.

Chicago, a city known for its wonderfully diverse population, doesn’t have a citizen-only requirement for its Police Department. But if it were up to Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), it would adopt such a policy. It was disconcerting to read their comments in a Sun-Times article by Fran Spielman this week about a $3.1 million settlement aldermen approved for immigrants that CPD failed to hire because of a discriminatory rule that required they be in the country for 10 years (the department cut it to five years before getting ridding of it). The city also agreed to put immigrants on the force.

“Would it not just be common sense that a person who is a peace officer in the city of Chicago should be a citizen?” Burke asked a city lawyer during a hearing.

“I’m just bothered by this,” Sposato said. “All of the problems we have in this city getting jobs for people and now, we have to” set aside police jobs for immigrants.

These guys don’t get the concept of equal opportunity.

“My first thought was that the department gets knocked for discrimination and their answer is to [want] to write discrimination into law,” Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said. “The bottom line is that there really isn’t any evidence that somehow limiting police officers to being citizens is helpful or useful.”

At a time when Chicago needs to improve its relationship with immigrants and minorities, Sposato insults them and Burke wants to ban some from the police department.

“Of all the moments to say it,” and “to say it so brazenly, that’s very disappointing,” Yohnka said.

Some might say immigrants should simply seek citizenship if they want to become cops. But it’s a lengthy process. You must wait five years after receiving a green card to pursue citizenship. Add another year to that for the oath of citizenship. “It’s not like getting a library card,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of National Immigration Forum.

Noorani points out that permanent legal residents go through background checks to be approved for green cards. Those who become cops then go through another round of background checks.

Police chiefs who want to change course and welcome immigrants to the force tell Noorani they want the best and brightest to serve. Keeping immigrants out only hurts departments’ credibility with their communities in the long run.

Follow Marlen Garcia on Twitter: @MarlenGarcia777