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http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/f...1&cset=true

Banking on illegal immigrants

A move to issue credit cards to people without Social Security numbers draws anger and praise.

By E. Scott Reckard, David Streitfeld and Adrian G. Uribarri, Times Staff Writers

February 14, 2007

Bank of America said Tuesday that it was issuing credit cards to Spanish-speaking immigrants who may not have Social Security numbers, triggering complaints that the nation's largest retail bank is tacitly endorsing illegal immigration.

The bank described the program as a pilot, limited for now to 51 branches in Los Angeles County, and said it could go national this year.

The credit cards are not aimed specifically at illegal immigrants, a bank spokeswoman said, but instead people who lack solid credit histories. Even so, the bank was bombarded with angry phone calls.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) accused the lender of aiding terrorists, while the Department of Homeland Security worried that the program could be exploited by criminals.

"At face value the program seems to be problematic," said Russ Knocke, a department spokesman. "It seems to be lending itself to possibilities of perpetrating identity theft or creating more risk for money laundering."

The bank's program may be controversial, but it also vividly demonstrates that businesses view the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants not as lawbreakers but as customers.

Other major banks including Wells Fargo & Co. and Citibank have launched similar initiatives to gain customers in the burgeoning Latino community.

Wells Fargo began a pilot program last year in Los Angeles and Orange counties to offer home mortgages to immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least two years. The customers are allowed to identify themselves using taxpayer numbers issued by the Internal Revenue Service instead of Social Security numbers. That's the same type of identification number an immigrant can use to obtain a credit card under Bank of America's pilot program.

Wells Fargo may follow Bank of America's lead on credit cards.

"We are also looking at the possibility of offering unsecured credit cards to customers who may not have Social Security numbers," Wells Fargo spokeswoman Mary Trigg said.

Although important for all major banks, the immigrant market is especially key for Bank of America. Though now based in North Carolina, the bank, once headquartered in San Francisco, still has its largest retail operation in California, home to a huge Latino population.

"Bank of America is the biggest bank for Hispanics in the country, and it made a decision a couple of years ago to keep pushing that market," including buying a 25% stake in a Mexican bank, said Richard Bove, a banking analyst for investment firm Punk, Ziegel & Co.

The emphasis may pay off, but "the political backlash is going to be substantial," he said.

That prediction seemed to be borne out Tuesday, after the program was reported in the Wall Street Journal.

"It helps to further embed illegal immigrants into American society," said Steven Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which backs stricter enforcement of immigration laws. "It makes amnesty a fait accompli."

Tancredo said he sent a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking them to look into the program.

"I hope the administration will shut down this reckless and illegal program before Bank of America extends a line of credit to a potential terrorist," said Tancredo, a hard- line foe of illegal immigration.

A Justice Department official declined to comment on the legality of the program.

Bank of America spokeswoman Alexandra C. Trower said the company complied fully with all banking and anti-terrorism laws governing customer identification, which she said permitted the use of taxpayer ID numbers instead of Social Security numbers.

Bank executives said participants needed another form of identification, such as ID cards issued by foreign consulates. Applicants must also have had a Bank of America checking account for at least three months.

William P. Cook, former general counsel of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said the bank's program was neither illegal nor problematic.

"It's sad that such a forward-thinking move is being mischaracterized as if it were an improper activity," said Cook, who is now in private practice.

There's a serious issue behind the flap, said Gordon H. Hanson, an economist and immigration expert at UC San Diego. The federal government has been stalemated on the immigration issue for years, abdicating its role in defining rights for 12 million people, and Bank of America moved into the breach, he said. It couldn't make immigrants citizens, but it could make them customers.

"Are we undermining civil society?" Hanson asked. "That's an entirely valid question."

Robert Gnaizda of the Greenlining Institute, which lobbies for improved financial services in low-income neighborhoods, called the program "excellent news."

Immigrants with scant credit histories can buy houses only with high-interest loans. Getting a bank card helps them establish their credit and qualify for better mortgage rates, he said.

Potential customers also liked the idea.

Lionel Archila, 51, is a Guatemala native who arrived in Los Angeles after a dozen years in Canada. A former accountant, he works odd jobs as a handyman and construction worker. He sometimes goes days without pay.

"It's magnificent from a financial point of view," Archila, waiting for a bus in downtown L.A., said about the prospect for getting a credit card. "But I would use it for my basic needs. I wouldn't get caught in the trap of buying the latest TV."

Roberto Flores, a 55-year-old Angeleno who moved to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico, in 1975, long ago got comfortable with credit accounts. He has at least two: one at La Curacao, a department store catering to Latinos, and another at Home Depot.

He said life without credit could be difficult for struggling immigrants.

"Anything helps," he said.

Despite Bank of America's compelling interest in Latino markets, it was arch-rival Wells Fargo that kicked off the competition in 2001, when it became the first U.S. bank to accept identification cards from Mexican consulates to open an account.

Since then, Wells has opened more than 1 million accounts for Mexicans using the consular card. It also accepts Guatemalan, Argentine and Colombian identity cards. The assumption is that most immigrants using the cards to identify themselves are here illegally, Wells Fargo spokeswoman Trigg said, but the bank doesn't ask.

Citibank already issues credit cards to some immigrants without Social Security numbers if they have taxpayer identification numbers, spokeswoman Janis Tarter said. The bank issues such cards under its own brand and the brand of its subsidiary, Banamex USA.

Citibank began issuing the cards nearly three years ago. Tarter said she couldn't recall anyone complaining.

So its basically "people who may not have a Social Security number", but I see how that can be exploited by "illegal" immigrants and possibly even terrorist.

:snakes: :snakes:

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Care to explain why?

'Cause, you know, illegal immigration damages the economy, and a move like this only encourages it.

Well, it's these people's lives, and our dignity as a nation, in the balance. I think the "economy" has to take a lower place here. Besides the solution for this is amnesty anyway, and the conservatives who supposedly care about the economy don't want to do it.

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Well, it's these people's lives, and our dignity as a nation, in the balance. I think the "economy" has to take a lower place here. Besides the solution for this is amnesty anyway, and the conservatives who supposedly care about the economy don't want to do it.

The economy has a large bearing on the quality of life we enjoy. Thus, encouraging them to come in greater force, we compromise our quality of life (our as in the people that live here legally) for the quality of life of people whose residence in this country alone is a crime.

Why should we give up the benefits of a good economy for people who are too impatient or ignorant to apply for a visa/citizenship and metaphorically knock before entering?

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The economy has a large bearing on the quality of life we enjoy. Thus, encouraging them to come in greater force, we compromise our quality of life (our as in the people that live here legally) for the quality of life of people whose residence in this country alone is a crime.

Why should we give up the benefits of a good economy for people who are too impatient or ignorant to apply for a visa/citizenship and metaphorically knock before entering?

Do you have any idea how long those waiting lists are or how ridiculous the current "legal" system is?

If it were as easy as it should be, only people committing an actual crime would have to come illegally.

It's America's duty to accept as many people as want to live here.

I won't even get into the whole Spanish-American war issues, how it was originally these people's land anyway, etc.

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Do you have any idea how long those waiting lists are or how ridiculous the current "legal" system is?

Note the "impatient" part. And, BTW, as someone who's never had to deal with any of it, you don't know either. The answer, however, is not to circumvent our immigration system that lets us know who is in our country and why they came.

It's not our problem that the waiting lists are long, it's theirs. Everyone coming into the country needs to be screened, and that takes time. We can't encourage people to circumvent that because we feel bad for them.

If it were as easy as it should be, only people committing an actual crime would have to come illegally.

No one has to come illegally.

It's America's duty to accept as many people as want to live here.

I must have missed that part of the Constitution; I thought America's responsibility was limited to its citizens.

I won't even get into the whole Spanish-American war issues, how it was originally these people's land anyway, etc.

Go ahead and get into those issues. Try any way you want to justify letting people into the country without screening them first and letting in a bunch of people that will take jobs at lower wages and damage the economy. It's just not a good idea.

(Giving all the ones currently here amnesty, BTW, is a horrible idea. For obvious reasons.)

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It's America's duty to accept as many people as want to live here.

No, it surely is not.

They can legally come here, and they can try and legally work. But we have no duty to anyone.

If an illegal comes here to get work and can't find it.... well they're gonna starve in the street. No one has any responsibility to anyone else.

TANSTAAFL: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch

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Excuse me, but most of the jobs that illegal immigrants take are ones that even the poor white trash that lives off of welfare refuse to take. (People get welfare as long as they apply to one place a month, even if they refuse the job.) In my opinion, they need to be kicked out of this country before the "illegals" but I'll shut up about that for now.

Most illegals, here's a shocker- Work illegally. Meaning they aren't paid minimum wage. Now, if we had all legal people take these jobs, they'd have to be paid more. Lets see, paying more wages to people means..... Oh yes, the prices will go up as well. So, prices going up and jobs opening up that no one really wants in the first place helps our economy how exactly?

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Do you have any idea how long those waiting lists are or how ridiculous the current "legal" system is?

If it were as easy as it should be, only people committing an actual crime would have to come illegally.

It's America's duty to accept as many people as want to live here.

i agree that the system as it exists is not good

The only place I know of that states that we should accept as many people as want to live here is the statue of liberty

I won't even get into the whole Spanish-American war issues, how it was originally these people's land anyway, etc.

please try, because unless I'm much mistaken it wasn't there's to begin with either. Spain was an imperial power, I'm pretty sure you mean the Mexican American war, and it wasn't the Mexicans to begin with either; There were Native Americans living there (wherever 'there' is) and going by what Native Americans around here did, even the Native Americans fought each other for it.

Note the "impatient" part. And, BTW, as someone who's never had to deal with any of it, you don't know either. The answer, however, is not to circumvent our immigration system that lets us know who is in our country and why they came.

It's not our problem that the waiting lists are long, it's theirs. Everyone coming into the country needs to be screened, and that takes time. We can't encourage people to circumvent that because we feel bad for them.

No one has to come illegally.

I must have missed that part of the Constitution; I thought America's responsibility was limited to its citizens.

Go ahead and get into those issues. Try any way you want to justify letting people into the country without screening them first and letting in a bunch of people that will take jobs at lower wages and damage the economy. It's just not a good idea.

(Giving all the ones currently here amnesty, BTW, is a horrible idea. For obvious reasons.)

If the reasons are so obvious it shouldn't be that difficult for you to give them.

And DremerGirl, I don't know enough about the work, workers, and businesses involved to comment on what the exact situation. I see your point, but I'm pretty sure there are a fe other factors too (corporate profits, more americans with jobs, more taxes being paid, etc).

Also, is it always that Americans are unwilling to do the job, or is it that Amerians want to be paid at least minimum wage?

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well, we like to think it's a very American thing to do to accept anyone who wants to try and live here, and try to make an honest living.

"Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door! "

That's what I mean by duty. We stole this land, we might as well share it.

What I mean when I say people "have to" come is that they can't make enough money to eat or have shelter or medical services in their native country, or they're in some kind of danger we never experience they could escape here, or (as is more often the case) the people they take care of are in this kind of situation. Then it's not simply a matter of patience, it's about saving yourself and saving the people you love. Would you really prefer some child grew up homeless and always hungry outside of America, rather than have her family come here illegally, and she goes to school and college and becomes a doctor and supports her family as well as helping and enriching America? We have a low birth rate, you know

A lot of the people crossing north are what we would call, if they were born here, "Native Americans". During the Spanish-American War there was a lot of displacement going on and there were many attempts to make Texas more European so that it would "fit into America", which resulted in a forced diaspora south for many people who looked Native American. So, many are knowingly just going back to the land their grandparents and great-grandparents originally lived on.

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Most illegals, here's a shocker- Work illegally. Meaning they aren't paid minimum wage. Now, if we had all legal people take these jobs, they'd have to be paid more. Lets see, paying more wages to people means..... Oh yes, the prices will go up as well. So, prices going up and jobs opening up that no one really wants in the first place helps our economy how exactly?

Because when people get paid more money, they spend more money. More money being spent makes businesses wealthier. Wealthier businesses lower costs a lot more than companies hiring illegal immigrants.

Would you really prefer some child grew up homeless and always hungry outside of America, rather than have her family come here illegally, and she goes to school and college and becomes a doctor and supports her family as well as helping and enriching America?

That child's problem is not our problem. The strength of the borders must be maintained for security reasons; no one that's here illegally should be allowed to stay for any reason lest others take advantage of that generosity.

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That child's problem is not our problem. The strength of the borders must be maintained for security reasons; no one that's here illegally should be allowed to stay for any reason lest others take advantage of that generosity.

No, I mean would YOU PERSONALLY prefer the child not come into America illegally.

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Most illegals, here's a shocker- Work illegally. Meaning they aren't paid minimum wage. Now, if we had all legal people take these jobs, they'd have to be paid more. Lets see, paying more wages to people means..... Oh yes, the prices will go up as well. So, prices going up and jobs opening up that no one really wants in the first place helps our economy how exactly?

It's a crime to hire illegals, period.

Yes it's cheap labor, and it should be allowed in order to bring cheap labor here. But boarder runners need to be stopped.

There is if you're born here. :glare:

There shouldn't be

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That's a totally irrelevant question. Sure it would be better for the kid not to suffer, but illegal immigration cannot be allowed for any reason, so they shouldn't come.

so your answer is that you would prefer that child to starve than to enter America illegally?

you haven't clearly and concisely answered the question, which should be fairly simple, nor have you stated why amnesty is a bad idea.

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Also, is it always that Americans are unwilling to do the job, or is it that Amerians want to be paid at least minimum wage?

They refuse to do the job. Most illegal immigrants end up taking farm work, and it's not at all fun. Even any idiot who didn't graduate can get a job in an air-conditioned McDonalds, so why would they bother with a job in which they have to deal with sitting in the sun in 90 degree weather?

Because when people get paid more money, they spend more money. More money being spent makes businesses wealthier. Wealthier businesses lower costs a lot more than companies hiring illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants spend their money just like citizens do. They have to buy the same basic things to live. Sure, they may not be buying a PS3 anytime soon, but proportionally they spend as much if not more of their paycheck than legal Americans.

Wealthier businesses? We're talking farms mostly. Farms can't afford to pay everyone minimum wage and continue to survive, let alone make profits.

Where did you think most illegal immigrants work? Walmart? Little corner shops? Most places require social security numbers of which they verify, so they don't exactly work "normal" jobs. And as far as wealthier businesses lowering costs, what were the oil companies profits again this year?

GPS- I agree. There shouldn't be free tickets for anyone. But to kick people out of this country who are willing to work and to keep the ones who aren't is not only discriminatory, but plain stupid.

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