Asking the Wrong Questions

A recent “data collection” change announced by the federal government illustrates the priority the Obama administration puts on collecting information about citizens and not illegal aliens.

Federal rules prohibit illegal aliens or non-permanent residents from possessing firearms. And federal courts have upheld these rules, even after the Supreme Court issued several rulings broadening Second Amendment protections. Lawful permanent residents can purchase and own firearms legally in many states, and laws restricting green card holders firearm purchases and possession are under legal assault, most recently in Hawaii, where a judge struck down Hawaii’s firearm restrictions for green card holders.

Now, however, the Obama administration has put more requirements on gun purchasers, demanding that they disclose their ethnicity in addition to race. Supposedly, this is to comply with other federal data collection requirements. According to Fox News, OMB (Office of Management and Budget) “required ATF to make changes to the format of the questions during the standard Paperwork Reduction Act approval process.”

The need to collect that information about citizens (and legal residents) is unclear. What is clear is that whatever the data benefits of the change, there is one situation where more data would be helpful for the public, but the Obama administration won’t request it.

Looking at national crime statistics, one glaring data omission is the lack of data about the citizenship and legal status of arrestees. This GAO (Government Accountability Office) report from 2011 details some of the problems they encountered trying to produce a reliable estimate of the incarcerated criminal alien population. Data available from summary reports from the Federal Bureau of Prisons reveal what percentage of federal inmates are non-citizens, currently around 25%.

No such easily accessible information exists for state prison populations outside of states with high illegal immigrant populations like California. And no national data exists outside of anecdotal reports on the percentage of arrestees who are foreign-born.

If the federal government were truly interested in getting better information, and more relevant information about crime, it would change the way the FBI collects Uniform Crime Reports to make sure that local and state police correctly report the citizenship and legal status of those accused of crimes. As it stands, the Obama administration is more interested in collecting information about citizens who have not committed a crime than aliens who are accused of crimes.

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Content written by Federation for American Immigration Reform staff.

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