August 24, 2018 SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) released a guide for banks on how to better serve immigrant communities. In the wake of allegations that Bank of America and other financial institutions are asking immigrants to verify their citizenship status, and closing accounts of people who have not verified this information, this guide is vital to ensuring that immigrants are not relegated to the economic and financial margins, and don’t become more vulnerable to economic exploitation.
“Bank of America is complicit in this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda,” said Paulina Gonzalez, CRC Executive Director. “First we hear that the Trump administration is adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, and now some banks are requiring this question from customers to maintain a bank account. Given the current political climate, it is no wonder that immigrant customers are wary of answering this question. Banks should be doing everything in their power to resist anti-immigrant sentiment and make access to banking safe and affordable for immigrant communities, instead of erecting barriers that make customers worried that they are not safe.”
Now more than ever, immigrant families need access to safe and affordable financial services so that they can prepare for immigration-related emergencies, protect their assets, and build their economic futures. Immigrants are working and saving to secure a future for themselves and their children. With more than 10 million immigrants in California, representing 27% of the state’s population, this issue is especially relevant in the Golden State.
Banks are uniquely situated to provide critical financial services to immigrants and receive credit for doing so under the federal Community Reinvestment Act. However, many banks have failed to meet the needs of immigrant communities by offering expensive products, engaging in deceptive business practices, and lacking culturally competent services. Some banks, like Bank of America, have recently added invasive questions about citizenship status to account opening processes or to maintain an account.
CRC has learned of several incidents where bank customers have been asked to provide citizenship information. One couple from Maryland received a letter in the mail from their bank, but didn’t think they needed to respond, after 20 years of being customers, and were eventually called by the bank to confirm the husband’s dual citizenship. A man from Tennessee received a similar letter asking to confirm his citizenship, while another couple in Kansas City had their accounts closed unexpectedly when they did not respond to their bank’s request for information.
“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 stoking fear in vulnerable communities by asking for this unnecessary information.”
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 develop personal financial plans for immigration-related events, and help customers avoid predators and fraudsters who prey on the most vulnerable in times of crisis.