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Bank of America takes fire over migrants' credit cards

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by ColtCarbine, Feb 16, 2007.

  1. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member

    Bank of America takes fire over migrants' credit cards

    Critics angry that applicants wouldn't need Social Security numbers

    By E. Scott Reckard, David Streitfeld and Adrian Uribarri
    Originally published February 15, 2007

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

    The bank called the program a pilot, confined for the time to 51 branches in Los Angeles County. If all goes well, the program could expand nationally this year.

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

    Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, 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, while controversial, illustrates how the business world increasingly sees the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants neither as lawbreakers nor essential workers but simply as customers.

    Wells Fargo & Co. and Citibank have launched similar initiatives to gain new customers within the burgeoning Hispanic community.

    Wells Fargo began a pilot program last year in Southern California to offer home mortgages to immigrants who have lived in this country for two years. The customers are allowed to identify themselves using individual taxpayer numbers issued by the Internal Revenue Service instead of Social Security numbers. That's the same system Bank of America customers can use to obtain credit cards under the new program.

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

    Bank of America, now based in North Carolina but once headquartered in San Francisco, still has its largest retail operations in California and is the biggest bank for Hispanics in the country, said Richard Bove, who follows the industry for Punk, Ziegel & Co.

    While the emphasis might pay off, "the political backlash is going to be substantial," he said.

    That seemed to bear 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, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies. "It makes amnesty a fait accompli."

    Tancredo said he sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto 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 leader of the anti-illegal immigration forces in Congress.

    A Justice Department official declined to comment.

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

    Bank officials say the participants must have 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.

    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 credit and qualify for better mortgage rates, he said.

    Wells Fargo 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.

    Citibank already issues credit cards to some immigrants without Social Security numbers if they have taxpayer identification numbers, spokeswoman Janis Tarter said.

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

    E. Scott Reckard, David Streitfeld and Adrian Uribarri write for the Los Angeles Times.

  2. FalconDance

    FalconDance Neighborhood Witch

    Dingdingding, morons, most people in the US have SSNs. In fact, most if not all of those with bad credit have them! Wow, the concept!

    As for Citibank: last time I checked, you had to have a SSN to get a taxpayer ID.

    Ooops, they got caught cranking up the greed dial and now are backpedaling as fast as they can. Guess it's too much to hope the government will actually do anything about such behaviour.

    Let's just roll out the red carpet, give them all health benefits and jobs without having to pay taxes or speak our common language. Hell, let's make their children US citizens with full rights automatically if they're born inside the borders. Oh wait a minute, we already do.

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