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Legislator opposes bill opening door for non-citizens to become firefighters

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(The Center Square) – Illinois state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, argues legislation that opens the ranks of the Chicago Fire Department to non-citizens does little to address the systemic discrimination he says has long plagued it.

As originally filed, House Bill 4045 would amend the Illinois Municipal Code and the Fire Protection District Act by establishing that non-citizens legally authorized to work in the country under federal law are eligible to apply for the position of firefighter subject to all other requirements and limitations.

“I hope that the sponsor pulls the bill and we have a bill that deals with hiring practices and also makes sure that we have some type of standards in place because these are taxpayer dollars,” Ford told The Center Square. “You can’t have racism and discrimination in your hiring and promotion practices and everyone should have equal opportunity to be hired in these positions.”

Ford argued the measure equates to putting a bandage on a gaping wound given what he said is the Chicago Fire Department’s history of hiring discrimination and the fact he said there’s been little action taken in Springfield to address the issue.

“I oppose that the bill is not complete,” he added. “We are trying to add more layers to a troubled system. We still have individuals that have applied, that continue to apply, to be in the system and yet they are rejected. The best thing that we could do is deal with the current red flags that have been issued by people that have felt discriminated against.”

Ford said he’s also heard all the cries coming from many in the Black community about migrant arrivals being instantly given the kind of help from government in getting assistance that many in his community never received.

“To that, I say that it appears that there is an agenda for this population and I believe that there needs to be an agenda for Black people,” he said. “Black people need an agenda and Black people need to be in charge of it. We have to have an agenda to deal with the racism, to deal with the racism and discrimination in Chicago and in Illinois. I see the migrant population with an agenda to advance their dream, to improve their communities and their families. Black people need an agenda and they need to push it until the change is actually realized.”

Ford added one change he would like to see is fire department doing more recruitment on the campuses of high schools, city colleges and trade schools along with the pools of unemployed people “to create a pipeline of diverse candidates.”

HB4045 was amended by dropping the non-citizen language, but keeping language saying firefighters can be any “individual who is legally authorized to work in the United States.” The measure passed the House Police and Fire Committee last month and awaits further floor action.

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