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March 24, 2007

Serving the Under-Served: Banking for Undocumented Immigrants

In February of 2007, Bank of America announced a pilot program in Los Angeles offering credit cards to individuals who lack either a social security number or a credit history, provided that they have Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN). The program was created as an effort to serve under priviledged individuals who are integral components of the communities in which they live and in which the banks operate. Predictably, however, some anti-immigrant critics interpreted the new program as an effort by Bank of America to reward the supposedly "illegal" behavior of individuals who crossed the border undocumented. This brought the program national attention, with supporters on both sides of the issue weighing in. It was not, however, the first time the issue has been in the spotlight.

Back in 2003, Bank Calumet, then headed by Chairman and CEO Calvin Bellamy, was a highly-rated community bank serving northwest Indiana and the southern Chicago metropolitan area. It has since been bought out by First Midwest Bank, but at the time, it had enjoyed a long tradition of community involvement and special outreach to under-served and minority individuals. In 2003, Mr. Bellamy and Bank Calumet developed a comprehensive program for serving the growing Hispanic population in the region. Part of this program involved allowing individuals to open accounts and secure mortgages using ITINs, and creating special savings accounts that facilitated easy financial transfers to family members in other countries. As a result, Bank Calumet was criticized for “rewarding illegal behavior” – a rebuke that has since been paraphrased and targeted at many businesses, including Bank of America.

Through it all, Mr. Bellamy remained true to his convictions and to the mission of Bank Calumet, and in the process helped thousands of undocumented individuals--individuals who by this time had become integral, even essential parts of the fabric of their communities--to lead prosperous and productive lives for themselves and to provide for their families. To read what Mr. Bellamy has to say in response to each one of the major criticisms he and Bank Calumet faced then, and that banking programs aimed at helping under priviledged and undocumented individuals face now, visit the Immigration Policy Center's website; http://www.ailf.org/ipc/2007_march_perspective.shtml

Posted by VisaLawyer at March 24, 2007 06:28 AM


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