Discrimination, lack of access to bank products and safety net programs; calls for Gov. Newsom to expand CalEITC to immigrant families-’We pay taxes!’

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 13, 2019 – Despite a strong belief in the American Dream, immigrants regularly face discrimination by banks and confront other barriers to accessing financial resources, according to a study released today by the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC). In “Here to Stay: Promoting Financial Security and Economic Opportunity for Immigrants in California,” both documented and undocumented immigrants report that they struggle to gain and maintain a financial foothold as a result of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies by the Trump administration.

“In this political climate, in which the anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration are leaving workers and families in fear for their futures, it is imperative that corporate and public policy in California reflect a practice of inclusion rather than exclusion,” says Paulina Gonzalez-Brito, executive director of CRC.

“Immigrants come to this country seeking a better way of life and what we found through our research is that immigrants often find barrier after barrier to economic security. We applaud Governor Newsom’s expansion of the CalEITC tax credit, but for it to be truly in the spirit of what we heard from immigrant families in this report, it must be expanded to include immigrant workers,” Ms. Gonzalez-Brito says.

To address the issues identified in the report, CRC has launched a campaign called “Here to Stay” that is led by immigrant community activists and immigrant-serving groups. The coalition is calling for equal access to financial resources that benefit immigrant families and put money back into the pockets of immigrant workers, including the state’s earned income tax credit (CalEITC).

Report Findings and Recommendations

The vast majority of immigrants profiled in the report want to build family wealth, but regularly experience discrimination by financial institutions, struggle to get small business loans and mortgages, encounter wage theft at their jobs, and face restrictions to accessing many safety net programs despite being taxpayers. The study reveals data collected from surveys and in-depth interviews of more than 200 San Francisco Bay Area immigrants.

Most immigrants (85 percent) report that they faced discrimination by financial institutions in some way. Bank tellers asked immigrant customers about their citizenship status or where they got the cash to open an account.

“When I went to open an account at Wells Fargo in San Jose, the bank tellers refused to approve it,” says Ana Lucia, a permanent resident from Mexico.“They said I would have to wait three months to see if they could let me open a bank account. They did not provide a clear explanation as to why they did not let me open checking and savings accounts.”

Nearly all (95 percent) of immigrants profiled say they need better access to credit and capital to start a small business. Immigrant entrepreneurship remains an important part of the California economy; yet, immigrant small business owners state that banks create barriers that make it difficult to build or start a business.

“Due to the Trump administration’s crusade against Latino immigrants, my father had his assets frozen,” says Bahlam Javier, the son of an immigrant cafe owner. “This was money that he saved to fund his business. The bank stated that they needed verification of his identification, but even after he provided it, they still withheld his assets for more than 30 days. As a result, I was unable to pay my tuition for about a semester.”

Many immigrants also worry about what will happen to their financial assets if they or a family member are deported.

“I think the hardest thing has been preserving our businesses while fearing threats of ICE raids,” Anabel, whose parents are undocumented, says. “My mom and I own a hair salon business together, and if anyone finds out about our situation, the risk of an ICE raid increases. My parents have savings, but what scares me are unexpected raids.”

In immigrant families, children often play a large role in navigating the banking and financial system. In the report, 75 percent of immigrant youth report that they interpret bank reports and translate bank documents for their parents. Most young people, however, lack access to safe, affordable financial resources.

“Though there is no law against youth having their own non-custodial bank account, most immigrant youth are led to predatory financial services,” says Marcus Garcia, whose grandparents are from Mexico and is Co-Chair of the Here to Stay campaign and Youth Engagement Manager at MyPath. “Relying on check cashers and payday lenders increases the disenfranchisement of families of color and immigrant families, as well as increasing the racial wealth gap.”

Chief among the recommendations identified by immigrant leaders are new policies to provide non-citizens with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) with equal access to financial resources, including small business loans, mortgages, retirement savings plans, and safety net programs. Other recommendations call for greater access to affordable housing and homeownership for immigrant families; access to safe and affordable banking accounts for immigrant youth; and policies that address abusive work conditions, wage theft, and a lack of work benefits.

“I think it is crucial to advocate for better access for all immigrants, including ITIN holders,” says Nancy Esteva, who immigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago and is Co-Chair of the Here to Stay Campaign. “Immigrants must have full access to financial resources and benefits because they are the bedrock of California’s economys. I joined CRC’s Here to Stay Campaign because it is a tool to connect immigrant families to financial resources and advocate for equitable financial access such as lending for immigrant business owners, retirement system, fair work conditions, and healthcare”

Join the Here to Stay Campaign here: http://rise-economy.org/about/hts/

The full report is available online here: http://rise-economy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Here-to-Stay-Report-Final.pdf



Contact: John Hoffman