A spokesman for the department, Don Aaron, said it seeks to hire immigrants who have been honorably discharged from the U.S. military to be eligible for police service, USA Today reported. “Persons who have given of themselves in the service to this country potentially have much to offer Tennesseans,” Aaron said. “We feel that … would benefit both the country and this city.”
Presently, only U.S. citizens can become law enforcement officers in Tennessee. However, about 5,000 permanent residents who aren’t citizens join the U.S. military each year. More than 92,000 people who joined the military before becoming citizens achieved their citizenship during their service since 2011.
That prohibition could change if a bill currently in the Tennessee state legislature passes.
HB 0765, introduced in the House by Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville) and a companion bill, SB 1012, introduced by Sen. Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), would permit any permanent legal resident of the United States who is an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. armed forces to be employed as a police officer.
“My assertion is that if you are willing to risk your life on the streets of Baghdad, then you should be allowed to serve your city and risk your life helping to protect Lower Broadway,” Powell told the Tennessean newspaper on March 11.
The Tennessean reported that Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson asked Powell to file the legislation needed to make the change in policy. Anderson told state legislators that the increasing diversity in Nashville also increases the need for a diverse police force. “Here in Nashville, we can’t keep all of Nashville safe unless we can keep all of Nashville safe,” Anderson said. “Having communities or pockets of Nashville where there’s not confidence in us, or where we don’t have the relationship or the communication, affects all of Nashville.”
Anderson did not explain why members of the ethnically diverse communities he mentioned could not become citizens first and then join the police force.
The Tennessean cited Powell’s statement that though he has not heard any statements in opposition to the bill, he did have to answer some questions about whether illegal immigrants would be eligible to apply for jobs as police officers if the bill passes. Though the U.S. military has a pilot program allowing a small number of illegal immigrants to join, Powell said his bill applies only to permanent residents who are here legally.
Powell explained that when non-citizen permanent residents join the military, they start on a track to earn their citizenship, a process that can take as long as five years.
Two of the three largest police departments in the nation currently allow non-citizens to apply for positions as police officers. The Chicago Police Department (which, with about 12,244 officers is the nation’s second-largest) currently hires non-citizens. The answer to an FAQ on the department’s website inquiring about whether a non-citizen may apply states: “Yes, as long as you have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Proof, such as an Alien Registration Card (Green Card) will be required if you are called for further processing.”
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