Banking on Illegals

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Apr 22, 2005
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By Laura Sonderup, Director, Heinrich Hispanidad

www.heinrichhispanidad.com


The Latin American immigrant population is growing quickly, yet it is a population that is largely unserved by financial institutions. According to most estimates, less than half of the 17.5 million Latin American immigrants in the United States have a bank or credit union account.


Serving these immigrants is a win-win scenario for both immigrant communities and financial institutions. Immigrants benefit from a safe place to keep their money, low-cost remittance options, and the potential to build credit for the future. Financial institutions benefit from serving an untapped market and establishing relationships with immigrant families as they become more integrated into the U.S. financial system.


Regulatory changes within the past few years have given financial institutions the latitude to determine for themselves what types of documentation are sufficiently reliable for a customer to open an account. Most major U.S. banks and credit unions have determined Mexico’s Matrícula Consular to be an acceptable form of identification. Unfortunately, their acceptance of the Matrícula, and other forms of foreign government issued-identification, has become embroiled in the larger debate over immigration control policy.


According to the Federal Reserve Bank, the Anti-Money Laundering legislation and the USA Patriot Act are designed to balance homeland security and effective banking regulations for anyone who lives and works in the United States, regardless of citizenship. Moreover, the Bush Administration has repeatedly stated that it values the benefits brought to the U.S. by immigrants, and does not appear to share some of the more conservative views on immigration, like those promoted by Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO).


Moderator’s Comment: Should financial institutions be allowed to open accounts for prospective customers whose status in this country is questionable,
thereby providing these individuals with a safe, affordable place to deposit their paychecks and build their savings? Or does this simply facilitate an illegal immigrant’s ability
to assimilate into the mainstream?

Laura Sonderup – Moderator

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15 Comments on "Banking on Illegals"


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Jim GARSOW
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Jim GARSOW
15 years 10 months ago

The way you phrased your poll question is incorrect. There is no such thing as an “illegal immigrant.” I believe the correct term is “illegal alien.” A good friend of mine is a card carrying “resident alien” from Canada. He joined our Guard and has completed two tours of duty in the Middle East supporting our freedoms. It is a tremendous insult (to all of the immigrants who have come to this country via legal means) to use the same noun to describe these lawbreakers.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

Editor’s Note: Thank you for pointing that out, jgarsow. We’ve made the change in the wording of the Poll question, as you’ve suggested.

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

If they are “illegal” then they are ILLEGAL. If not, so be it, but let’s make up our minds.

Now riddle me this. In today’s world of post 9/11 identity requirements, how does anyone either get a Social Security card or appear on a payroll tax list to have employer contributions made if they are “illegal”?

I will readily admit to my own confusion on this subject, but isn’t our policy just a little confused as well???

Eva A. May
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Eva A. May
15 years 10 months ago

We should absolutely allow anyone who wants to deposit money that appears to be legitimately earned in US institutions. A recent article in The New York Times (4/5/05) pointed out that illegal immigrant workers in the US are currently providing the Social Security system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year! Financial services are an extremely underdeveloped category in most Latin American markets. Financial institutions that are willing to bear the risk of using minimal identification for customers wishing to establish a relationship can reap large benefits in cash deposits, transaction fees and community goodwill. Additionally, they will help reduce the high incidence of “mattress money” in Hispanic households, making life in the US safer and more secure for these immigrants, as well as educating a large number of “emerging” consumers in basic money management.

Arlene Jones
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Arlene Jones
15 years 10 months ago

Considering Congress just passed the new bankruptcy law, how will it affect a bank’s decision to offer credit? We remember the savings and loans fiasco. Will the banks be next? Are those accounts to be FDIC ones? If they are, then the joke is on us!

Santiago Vega
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Santiago Vega
15 years 10 months ago
I agree with not giving illegal immigrants (or illegal aliens, as some might prefer) the right to open a bank account. This wouldn’t be a responsible action on the part of government. However, I think we must look past this issue that seems to be unveiling in some comments posted here: “Why should we allow them to have the same rights that US citizens and lawful immigrants have?” Illegal immigrants, most of them, at least, are and have been contributing to the growth of the US economy, regardless of their legal status and probably without the public knowing or even caring. If we ask ourselves, then, what is responsible after reflecting upon this, I would say that some sort of legal status for those people is not only due, but would also be a wise decision in order for the government to be able to identify and “track” those people, and tax their incomes for the benefit of all US citizens. It’s not an easy decision and definitely not an easy task to implement, but… Read more »
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
15 years 10 months ago
As several have already stated, let’s be careful about distinguishing between a conversation about “illegal” immigrants and a conversation about non-citizens. There are many ways in which a person can be living and working in this country and not be a citizen. So…as far as all of the variations of consumers that are here legally but who are not citizens, there most definitely should be alternative forms of identification accepted. In terms of illegals, it is naive to believe that 9/11 has eliminated the underground business of fake Social Security cards. Identity theft is at an all time high. It is not the bank’s responsibility to become the INS. In the early 90’s, I worked on all of the Hispanic marketing efforts of Bank of America. It was not uncommon for tellers to encounter false Social Security cards on a regular basis. They were not obligated to do anything about them and they were allowed to use their judgment in terms of opening accounts. I have been told that things have not changed. Finally, a… Read more »
Justin Cox
Guest
Justin Cox
15 years 10 months ago

We must show people who come here illegally that America is a nation built on rule of law. That includes coming here and using legal bank accounts while in our country illegally. I support all who go through legal channels to come to our country and become citizens, but we can’t support illegal aliens in any way.

As for those who bring up the contributions to the economy that these illegal aliens make to our society, what about the huge burden that we all pay through their use of public services? Any conversation involving their contributions must include discussing the honest reality that we all pay for their health care through higher taxes.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

Opening bank accounts may not even be necessary for illegal aliens (and I believe that to be the correct term). Financial services abound everywhere that can meet their needs without such accounts. Check the volume of Western Union, American Express, Traveler’s Express and others that do money orders and money transfers (wiring) for retailers. These are booms in the right areas. There are also pre-paid credit cards and other forms of financial services coming about today to allow anyone (illegal or not) that doesn’t have the traditional banking relationship to move about our economy in ways that make them look and feel just like anyone else. Absence of a traditional bank account is hardly an issue. It’s really a non-issue as they are not needed.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 10 months ago

I’ve had the honor of consulting in Mexico for Grupo Electra, a company which operates Banco Azteca, amongst other concerns. The Latin American culture does not include a drive to open bank accounts or have credit cards.

The socio-economic realities are that the overwhelming majority would not qualify for credit under the terms and conditions imposed by US banking institutions, or would be subject to the onerous bad credit restrictions high risk lenders use.

Illegal alien or not, having and holding cash is considered far safer than deposits in banking institutions with histories of fraud, failure, and inadequate reserves. Although those things are not true of the US banking system, the belief sustains.

By all means, allow anyone to open bank accounts who qualifies under current regulations. It’s silly to consider otherwise. But if a retail bank is expecting a large number of new accounts to flow in, they will need to market and educate in an entirely new way.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

Whether it’s about illegal aliens, or obvious violations of Robinson-Patman, I’ve always favored enforcing the law–or changing it. Waffling, and inconsistent enforcement, is horrendously unfair to all.

Joe foran
Guest
Joe foran
15 years 10 months ago

Tell you what; how about we set up special accounts at financial institutions for drug dealers as well. We can really go after money launderers with a special sweep account that suits their particular needs. And we can develop offshore accounts through US institutions to help parents avoid that pesky child support thing.

Okay, so the hyperbole is a little over the top, but where DO you draw the line if you allow for ILLEGAL ALIENS to open accounts that can’t be traced to anything that my accounts can be traced on (residence, phone number, Social Security number, etc.)? And, if you open such accounts for ILLEGAL ALIENS, what’s to stop me from going down to the bank and posing as an ILLEGAL ALIEN and hiding my money there, safe from Uncle Sam?

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

If we allow illegals to open bank accounts, then I want to be able to open a bank account without having to show an ID and Social
Security number too. It’s unfair to legal citizens who have their personal financial information sent to the IRS via their Social Security number and are then forced to pay income taxes on interest earned.

Why can’t the illegals just wire their mattress money back to their bank in their home country and use a debit card issued by the foreign bank? Or just purchase a debit card from Western Union at the local supermarket?

I’m sure more than one BrainTrust panelist has done consulting work in a foreign country, posing as a tourist while, in fact, working. …Then wondering what to do with the check after getting paid? Is this really any different? These illegals probably want financial privacy, the same as us.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
15 years 10 months ago
Two wrongs do not make a right. It does not make sense to deny access to bank accounts, or drivers licenses for that matter, to illegal aliens. If they cannot keep their money in a bank or obtain auto insurance (because they have no license), the cost of illegal aliens is going to show up someplace else. It might be in increased crime statistics or unpaid accident claims. The right answer is to prevent the problem at the source. I know that is difficult and maybe even impossible, but if the borders can be made more secure then there would be fewer illegals to deal with internally. Because it is impossible to avoid, the place to catch illegal immigration within the country is through employment records. If employers are required to ensure their employees are properly documented, then those that get across the border illegally cannot earn a living. I don’t know how to stop the cash payments to workers except to continue conducting reviews of employees on the job to catch undocumented workers.
Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 10 months ago

This is not so much a question of allowing banks to open accounts for illegals. It’s whether illegals are going to open banks accounts. I think not. Undocumented workers are not going to take the chance that papers they sign to open these accounts will get into the hands of immigration officials. They want to remain anonymous and opening bank accounts or applying for a driver’s license doesn’t keep them under the radar.

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