Should immigration authorities be alerted if an undocumented immigrants attempts to purchase a weapon?
Any would-be gun purchaser in the U.S. is currently required to pass the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. (Although there are some loopholes, such as the Charleston loophole allowing a gun sale if the background check comes back inconclusive after three days.)
FBI statistics list more than 8 million undocumented immigrants in the background check system. In 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 3,337 undocumented immigrants (p. 16 of the report) attempted to purchase a gun but were denied because of the system.
However, those denials just end there, with the tally going up by one in the FBI’s database. Immigration authorities themselves aren’t alerted of the denial or the identity of the undocumented immigrant who attempted to make the purchase.
What the bill does
The Notify ICE Act would alert the federal agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement if an undocumented immigrant attempts to purchase a gun — presumably making it easier to deport them.
It was introduced on February 27 as bill number H.R. 1397, by Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA6).
What supporters say
Supporters argue the legislation improves cross-department communications regarding an attempted action, which is already against the law.
“My bill connects NICS with Immigration and Customs Enforcement so this information can be communicated to the agency tasked with enforcing our immigration laws,” Rep. Cline said in a press release. “This creates a mechanism to enforce laws which are already on the books and keep guns out of the hands of people who are in this country illegally.”
Supporters also say it’s little different than existing law in other areas aside from gun purchases.
“I was a prosecutor in Harrisonburg [Virginia] for many years and prosecuted many illegal immigrants,” Rep. Cline told local television station WHSV. “ICE had to be notified to come pick them up for deportation.”
What opponents say
Opponents also say that the bill is both redundant and a distraction from the real issue of broader gun control measures they believe are necessary.
“If he fails a background check because he’s illegally in the country, that means the system knows he’s illegally in the country. It means they already know that. So what’s the point of reporting him?” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY10) said on the House floor. “So this is totally circular, number one.”
“Number two, this is just a red herring to try to mix up the immigration issue with the gun violence issue. They really have nothing to do with each other.”
Opponents also note that very few undocumented immigrants are actually attempting to purchase weapons. Of all the gun purchase denials since the NICS system went into effect in 1998, only 1.5 percent (p. 16 of the report) were because of undocumented immigration.
Odds of passage
In February, Rep. Cline introduced the same policy as a potential amendment to the gun control legislation, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. The provision actually passed the House 220–209, including 26 Democrats who supported it. (Republicans supported 194–1, while Democrats opposed 26–208.)
However, while the House passed the full Bipartisan Background Checks Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the full bill is dead on arrival in that chamber. That’s why Rep. Cline subsequently introduced the provision as standalone legislation, with the idea that it might actually be enacted into law that way.
The bill has attracted 18 House cosponsors, all Republicans — even though 26 House Democrats had already voted for it. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.