February 14, 2007


Banking on illegal immigrants: A move to issue credit cards to people without Social Security numbers draws anger and praise. (E. Scott Reckard, David Streitfeld and Adrian G. Uribarri, February 14, 2007, LA Times)

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'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. [...]

"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."

It's already a fait accompli--just makes good business sense to cash in on it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 14, 2007 12:00 AM

Customers and lawbreakers both.

If the immigration debate were other than a cynical sham, a grand jury would find Bank of America's records interesting. Likewise the I.R.S.'s ITIN system could help us clean up Dodge.

Of course nothing of the sort is even contemplated, and the regime of peon exploitation will continue.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 14, 2007 1:21 PM

America, where "peons" are so wealthy they have houses and credit lines!

Posted by: oj at February 14, 2007 1:32 PM

Wells Fargo is right behind on this one.

Posted by: ratbert at February 14, 2007 2:29 PM

The waiting line for positions as exploited peon must stretch all the way to Tierra del Fuego.

Posted by: ed at February 14, 2007 3:13 PM