A couple of years ago I was pulled over on way to the office by a cop who resembled an extra from a Sabado Gigante skit. He crept up on me with his hand on his gun and when he got to the window, he asked for my license and registration in broken English. I was tempted to just drive away, thinking it was some sort of new way of car jacking. But, the middle of the afternoon in a business park is not time for car jacking.
Eventually, my weak Spanish and his poor English allowed us to communicate. He was, in fact, a local cop doing traffic duty. I guess they figured having a Spanish speaker was necessary. I think he forgot what he was doing or simply got confused, but he handed me back my stuff and I went on my way without him telling me why he pulled me over.
Law enforcement agencies struggling to fill their ranks or connect with their increasingly diverse populations are turning to immigrants to fill the gap.
Most agencies in the country require officers or deputies to be U.S. citizens, but some are allowing immigrants who are legally in the country to wear the badge. From Hawaii to Vermont, agencies are allowing green-card holders and legal immigrants with work permits to join their ranks.
At a time when 25,000 non-U.S. citizens are serving in the U.S. military, some feel it’s time for more police and sheriff departments to do the same. That’s why the Nashville Police Department is joining other departments to push the state legislature to change a law that bars non-citizens from becoming law enforcement officers.
Department spokesman Don Aaron said they want immigrants who have been honorably discharged from the military to be eligible for service.
“Persons who have given of themselves in the service to this country potentially have much to offer Tennesseans,” he said. “We feel that … would benefit both the country and this city.”
Current rules vary across departments.
Some, like the Chicago and Hawaii police departments, allow any immigrant with a work authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to become an officer. That means people in the country on temporary visas or are applying for green cards can join.
Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Justin Mullins said the department usually struggles to fill trooper positions in less populous corners of the state, including patrol sectors high up in the mountains. He said immigrants from Canada, the Bahamas, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Central America who are willing to live in those remote places have helped the agency fill those vacancies.
“People that want to live there and build a family there and work there is a little more difficult to find,” Mullins said. “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.”
This will not end well.