Taking idea of 'illegal' all the way to the bank

February 12, 2002

The Orange County Register

When it comes to illegal immigration, we as a society often seem to be working at cross-purposes.

For example, on one hand the taxpayers are giving the Immigration and Naturalization Service hundreds of millions of dollars to try to make it harder for people to be illegal immigrants. And at the same time, some of our largest financial institutions are doing everything they can to make being an illegal immigrant easier and more convenient.

What brings this up is the story about Bank of America and the Mexican government ID cards.

As you probably know, the Mexican Consulate in Santa Ana has been issuing official identification cards to thousands of Mexican citizens who are in the U.S. illegally, and who therefore can't obtain other forms of ID such as a California driver's license. The popularity of the cards has soared since last fall, when police agencies in Orange County announced they would accept them as identification.

You can argue, as police officials do, that there's a valid law-enforcement purpose in police accepting the cards -- that is, that it helps police determine if an illegal immigrant who's a witness or a suspect really is who he says he is. I'm not saying it's a persuasive argument, but at least it's an argument.

But Bank of America and other banks are taking the Mexican ID cards a step further. As reported in Saturday's Register, B of A is not just accepting the Mexican ID cards as valid ID for opening accounts. Last week it opened a bank sub-branch inside the Mexican Consulate and has been actively recruiting people who are waiting in line for the Mexican ID cards, signing them up as bank customers.

Which raises the question: By targeting illegal immigrants as customers, isn't B of A facilitating the violation of our immigration laws?

Bank of America spokesman Ken Preston insists that it's not.

"In no way are we circumventing immigration regulations," Preston told me. Legally that's true, although there is pending legislation in Congress that, in an effort to combat the financing of international terrorism, might change the rules.

And as for the ethical considerations of actively targeting as customers people who are here illegally, Preston said it is simply a marketing decision.

"If you have a product, you might as well market it," he said.

Now, in fairness, I should point out that when it comes to facilitating illegal immigration, few of us are completely innocent. I mean, how many of us demand to see green cards from the people who do so much of the labor from which we benefit?

Still, Bank of America seems to be taking it to new levels. Even if the bank isn't violating any regulations, it appears to be openly displaying disdain for this nation's immigration laws.

For a bank, that may be good business.

But it certainly doesn't seem like good citizenship.



Contact Gordon Dillow at (714) 796-7953.