Politics & Policy

Banking on Corruption

No Visas without visas.

The immigration bill that would give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants may be dormant in the Senate for the time being, but the debate over this hot-button issue is far from over.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 forced the federal government to change the way we look at critical national-security issues. Almost immediately, we realized that a primary task would involve tracking funding to potential terrorist organizations through American banking institutions. Our citizens deserve to know our financial institutions are not putting our national security at risk.

In order to finance their plans, terrorists need to be able to move large amounts of money in and out of the country, beyond the scrutiny of law enforcement. Choking off the money supply has been critical in our efforts to fight global terrorism.

Unfortunately, this sensible effort is being undermined from an unexpected direction. Recently, several major American financial institutions have exploited loopholes in federal law to initiate pilot programs that grant illegal immigrants legal access to our financial sector. These programs allow illegal immigrants to receive credit cards, mortgages, and transfer money to countries throughout the world.

Despite all our efforts to prevent our institutions from being used against us, some banks seem intent on creating a back door into the American financial system.

As the average American faces ever more daunting stacks of paperwork when applying for credit cards, loans, and other financial services, some banks are creating a second, parallel process for applicants who cannot prove legal residence.

Some prominent financial institutions, most notably Bank of America, are consciously exploiting loopholes in federal money-laundering law and “gray areas” within IRS regulations to allow illegal immigrants access to credit cards and loans. Despite intense media pressure and citizen backlash, these institutions continue this practice to this day, without repercussion.

Banks have the option of accepting a range of documents to verify a customer’s proof of identity under current law. And yet, operating within the letter but outside the spirit of the law, certain banks are choosing to allow anyone with an “individual taxpayer identification number” (ITIN) and an additional government-issued form of identification to apply for a credit card or loan.

The catch is that this second form of identification is often the matricula consular, issued by Mexico, and frequently counterfeited and easily obtained on the black market. Without ever having produced a Social Security number, passport, visa, or credit history, an applicant can simply maintain a $500 balance in a checking account for three months for the bank to issue a credit card.

Having made no additional effort to verify the applicant’s identity or immigration status, the bank issues a card complete with a predatory interest rate of over 20 percent. An industry lobbyist assured me that opening checking accounts and providing loans to illegal aliens are simply good-faith efforts to cater to an untapped and underserved market. In his words, financial institutions should be able to “bank illegal immigrants.”

Apparently these banks have no problem catering to an “untapped market” that often trades in human smuggling, drug trafficking, and gun running. By “banking illegal immigrants,” it is quite possible that American financial institutions could be unwitting participants in the money-laundering efforts of a Columbian drug lord or a weapons dealer from the Middle East.

And who will pay the piper when illegal immigrants cannot pay their bills? Not the bank. Instead, the American people can expect higher interest rates for those who can pay: you and me. After all, if someone is willing to apply for credit with fraudulent documents, what reason do we have to expect that person to be responsible for the charges?

I intend to cut off this regressive cost shift, invitation to identity theft, and backdoor access into our financial system with the Photo Identification Security Act. This bill requires financial institutions to accept only secure forms of identification. A non-citizen, (but) legal resident, could present a lawful permanent resident card (“green card”) in conjunction with a driver’s license that complies with the Real ID Act. Only legal United States residents will have these forms of ID, ensuring that only legal residents will have access to the services.

Simply put, banks should not be actively pursuing illegal immigrants as a new market. If we allow lenders to continue to exploit these loopholes, we are essentially saying that the distinction between a legal and illegal immigrant does not matter. By allowing a retreat from the standards of accountability and transparency that Congress enacted to prevent money laundering, we are abandoning hard-won tools against those who patiently wait for opportunities to do us harm.

It seems entirely reasonable to me to say to banks and illegal immigrants alike, “You can’t get a Visa without a visa.”

Marsha Blackburn is a Republican congresswoman from Tennessee.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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