The Department of Justice has fined the Denver Sheriff Department for excluding non-U.S. citizens in their recent hiring surge, a violation of federal and Colorado state law.
From January 2015 through March 2016, the Denver Sheriff's Department hired roughly 200 new deputies to help bolster their thinly spread numbers and to help the agency save millions of dollars in overtime pay. The department made U.S. citizenship mandatory for applicants.
This was in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which stipulates that anyone who has a permit to work in the U.S. should be eligible for employment. Over 40 states have local laws that exempt police departments from this rule, but Colorado is not among them, according to The Associated Press.
The DOJ fined the Denver Sheriff Department $10,000 for the violation. The agency will also have to file all of the applications that had been turned away due to citizenship and keep them in consideration for future hires.
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Denver Sheriff Department spokesman Simon Crittle issued a statement asserting that they had not intended on being discriminatory but would accept responsibility for the violation.
"The Denver Sheriff Department maintains its commitment to treat all people with dignity and respect, and is proud to have one of the most diverse workplaces in Colorado," Crittle said.
"While we didn't commit this violation intentionally, we accept responsibility and are taking steps to clarify policy and amend language in hiring documents."
The INA mandates that legal permanent residents who have not been naturalized or residents with a green card or work permit have a right to local employment. Federation for American Immigration Reform spokesman Ira Mehlman counters that this rule puts an undue burden on police departments.
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"They're making a long term investment, paying for training, for someone who might be ineligible to work in a few years," Mehlman told Fox News.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division praised the Denver Sheriff's Department for pledging to be more open in future hires.
"We commend the Denver Sheriff Department for its cooperation and commitment to removing unnecessary and unlawful employment barriers," Gupta said. "Eliminating this unlawful citizenship requirement will help ensure that the … Department hires the best and most qualified individuals to protect and serve."
This issue reflects the national debate over whether or not U.S. immigrants deserve the same employment opportunities as naturalized citizens. Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Justin Mullins believes that they do, citing that his department regularly hires immigrants in order to offset their shortage of potential troopers in the state's sparsely populated mountain regions.
"People that want to live there and build a family there and work there is a little more difficult to find," Mullins told USA Today. "People moving from out of state, or out of the country, if they're willing to work in these areas, then that's great for us."