The intention, Denver officials said, was benevolent.
The Denver Sheriff’s Department set out to hire scores of deputies last year to lessen the burden on its staff and cut millions in overtime.
It advertised for prospects, and included U.S. citizenship as a requirement.
By this past spring, it had hired 200 deputies.
The Justice Department did not congratulate the agency – instead, it slapped Colorado’s largest sheriff’s department with a $10,000 fine and a host of steps it must take to address what was described as discriminatory hiring.
In a summary of the settlement on its website, the Justice Department said that in insisting on citizenship, the Denver Sheriff’s Department violated an anti-discrimination provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that forbids employers from hiring only U.S. citizens except in cases where it is mandated “by law, regulation, executive order or government contract.”
The Justice Department said that the opportunity to work for the department should be open to anyone with the necessary skills who is authorized to be employed in the United States. That could be a legal permanent resident who has not naturalized, for example, or someone on a temporary visa who has a work permit.
In a statement, the Denver agency said it would abide by the ruling.
“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,” said Denver Sheriff's Department spokesman Simon Crittle.
“While we didn’t commit this violation intentionally, we accept responsibility and are taking steps to clarify policy and amend language in hiring documents,” he added.
Many police departments around the country with positions they say are difficult to fill have sought to cast a wider net for job prospects by considering legal immigrants as well as others who have work permits.
Chicago and Hawaii police departments accept job applicants who have a work permit, according to USA Today.
The fine against the Denver agency was the target of criticism on social media, including on the Facebook page of the group “Blue Lives Matter.”