It’s not just ICE and local bigots harassing immigrants and people who they think might be immigrants anymore.
Activists are claiming U.S. financial institutions, encouraged by the Department of Treasury, are including citizenship status as part of the Customer Identification Program provision of the USA Patriot Act, even though it is not legally required.
What this means in practical terms is that existing customers, like Josh Collins and wife Jessica Salazar Collins who thought envelopes from Bank of America were junk mail, are having their accounts suspended until such time as questions about citizenship are answered.
Collins, who is a US citizen was born in Kansas and had been a BofA customer for the better part of two decades. Jessica is a Latina whose great-grandparents settled in Kansas.
From the Kansas City Star:
Jessica Salazar Collins’ Facebook posts on the matter sparked dozens of angry comments about the policy, including from others who have been asked about their U.S. citizenship and whether they had dual citizenship.
In Seattle, an April report by the Spanish-language TV network Univision cited one such case and reported that Bank of America could not provide services to people known to still be citizens of countries under U.S. economic sanctions.
Here’s California Reinvestment Coalition executive director Paulina Gonzalez, in a recent Hill op-ed, pointing out the irony of a bank founded by immigrants being complicit with Trump administration’s racist agenda:
In this political climate in which immigrants are being targeted by ICE and scapegoated by the White House, this question does not appear to be an innocent one.
Bank of America was founded as the Bank of Italy in San Francisco in 1904 to serve the needs of many immigrants settling in the United States at that time, providing services denied to them by mainstream banks, which catered only to the wealthy.
Bank of America can honor this history, take a stand against Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda and stop asking for citizenship information; or they can be complicit in stoking fear and destabilizing immigrant communities throughout the country.
It appears that Bank of America, and all banks, have a choice to make, and so far they are standing on the wrong side of history.
Bank of America told the Kansas City Star that requests for updated information were part of an ongoing program to update their personal information on customers, including citizenship and dual citizenship.
Josh Collins told the paper he’s curious about why no such notice went to his wife if all customers were being contacted.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates national banks, told the Star such information need not include account-holders’ countries of citizenship. Under federal regulation, bankers must “form a reasonable belief that it knows the true identity of each customer,” and have processes in place to develop a “customer risk profile,” according to an OCC statement.
The Collins family has moved their banking business to a credit union.
In response to these reports, the California Reinvestment Coalition has issued a report aimed at helping financial institutions better serve immigrant communities.
“There is nothing in federal or state law that requires banks to ask customers about their citizenship, nor anything that would require banks to deny customers services on the basis of their immigration status,” said Andrea Luquetta-Kern, CRC Deputy Director and one of the report authors. “Banks should be making it as easy as possible for customers to open accounts, rather than asking information that could stoke fear in vulnerable communities.”
Here’s a snip from their press release about what can be done.
This guide provides concrete tips to repair relationships with immigrant communities for the mutual benefit of immigrants and financial institutions alike. CRC consulted nonprofit members, partners, allies, and financial institutions to understand how banks can better support immigrants. CRC urges banks to:
- Offer safe and affordable financial services for unbanked and underbanked immigrants, including accounts that not will overdraft with daily purchases, and offer loans to help finance immigration fees, so that families will not need to turn to predatory services.
- Adopt immigrant-friendly consumer banking practices, such as expanding the forms of identification that can be used to open accounts; earning and guarding the trust of immigrant customers by not asking about immigration status; and informing customers of their privacy rights.
- Become resources for immigrant community members, partner with trusted community leaders and organizations who can help customers de
The CRC’s well-meaning suggestions aside, I think it’s important to point out the complicity of large corporations and the uber-wealthy with the Trump administration’s agenda. Those tax breaks passed by Republicans and the promise of an open season when it comes to scamming the public are the only things that really matter to those folks.
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