Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bank of Illegal America

I meant to get around to this earlier, but just haven't. The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) had an article last week about how Bank of America is now giving credit cards to people without social security numbers. Since those who don't have SSNs now are typically your undocumented immigrants, this seems like a bold move to cater to the illegal market:

The new Bank of America program is open to people who lack both a Social Security number and a credit history, as long as they have held a checking account with the bank for three months without an overdraft. Most adults in the U.S. who don't have a Social Security number are undocumented immigrants.
The Charlotte, N.C., banking giant tested the program last year at five branches in Los Angeles, and last week expanded it to 51 branches in Los Angeles County, home to the largest concentration of illegal immigrants in the U.S. The bank hopes to roll out the program nationally later this year.
"We are willing to grant credit to someone with little or no credit history," says Lance Weaver, Bank of America's head of international card services, whose team designed the program based in part on the bank's experience in markets like Spain, which lack conventional credit bureaus to rate a client's credit-worthiness.

In my opinion, good on them. Sure, this is aimed at illegals (protestations to the contrary), but what does that matter? By pushing illegals away from the systems we have built and into the arms of, oh, payday lenders or loan sharks, we make certain that they will become less than fully productive members of society. What does that mean for all the hardworking, decent Americans that the Minutemen and Tom Tancredo aim to protect? I'll tell you what it means. It means higher healthcare costs because those illegals who get treated at Emergency Rooms won't be able to pay for that healthcare because they're paying usurious rates upwards of 900% on other loans they have to get. What if they could put this on a credit card instead? Then they could get a rate more along the lines of 17-21%. That's actually workable. What if they could build a credit history? What if that credit history allowed them to purchase goods like cars, houses, designer clothing, and whatnot? Wouldn't that be a good thing?

The fact is that they aren't going away anytime soon, despite what Lou Dobbs says. You could turn the boats away during the 19th and 20th centuries, but it's tough to completely close a 3000 mile border, even with ceding Nogales and Galveston to Mexico and building the Great Wall of America. Besides, it's not just a border crossing problem - it also is an overstaying your visa issue, and you can't stop those people with a wall. At the end of the day, don't we really all want a society that is strong, that is American, and that is safe? How will marginalizing 12 million people do that? Isn't it better to bring them in from the cold and give them credit and the possibility of a better life?

I've already linked to it, but BofA had a response to criticisms about their new policies that they wrote on the Op-Ed page of the Journal (registration required):

There are two answers. First, the program is not about illegal immigrants, and never was. It is designed to help Bank of America customers build a credit history. Second, we believe we have an obligation to serve all those in our country who are legally eligible to receive services. To do less would be discriminatory and unfair.
This debate arises out of the identification laws and regulations in the financial services industry, and the facts may surprise some who have criticized this pilot.
Many of the laws the financial services industry follows today were put in place to help protect America. Shortly after 9/11, Congress, in near unanimous agreement, passed, and the president signed into law, the USA Patriot Act. This law has one provision that troubles many of its critics. It allows financial institutions to accept some official identification sources issued by foreign governments, including the matricula consular, an ID issued by Mexican consulate offices to its nationals living
outside Mexico, as valid.
Former Treasury Secretary John Snow wrote to congressional leaders in 2004, "Americans are better protected if consumers of all nationalities are invited into the financial mainstream." To do otherwise, the secretary warned, would "drive large sections of the U.S. population to underground financial services, [and] weaken the government's ability to enforce money laundering and terrorist financing laws."


Richard said...

You can get free online access to Wall Street Journal with a netpass from:

I saw this blogged last week and thought this was a great tip.

Cheeth said...

Excellent post. I agree that for better or for worse (I actually think for better), people are going to live in the United States illegally, and there's very little the government can do about it.