Banks are standing on the wrong side of history — with Trump

Banks are standing on the wrong side of history — with Trump
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A controversial Texas immigration law commonly known as the “Show Me Your Papers” law recently went into effect. It seems that banks are now instituting a different kind of “Show Me Your Papers” policy, asking customers if they are U.S. citizens.

Banks are choosing to be complicit in Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda by asking for this information, despite the fact that U.S. citizenship is not required to open or maintain a bank account.

On July 27, it was reported that Bank of America froze the accounts of a Kansas couple that had not verified their citizenship status. A man in Georgia also had his account frozen.

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In 2018 America, where families are separated at the border, parents are deported without their children, ICE raids paralyze neighborhoods and the president of the United States has formed a “denaturalization task force,” the consequences of asking this question are significant.

 

Immigrants have long been excluded from the financial mainstream and forced to rely on high-cost and exploitative financial products. Banks asking for citizenship information not only drives immigrants away from safe products but also raises questions about the role banks will play in Trump’s America.

Our organization, the California Reinvestment Coalition, is working to make sure immigrants have access to the same financial resources as everyone else, including safe, affordable bank accounts and small-business loans.

Over and over, we witness how resilient immigrant families are: how despite increasing and worsening barriers, they fight to find ways not to just to cope, but to thrive.

I’m proud to live in a state that is taking steps to recognize the importance of immigrants, such as ensuring that immigrants are counted in the upcoming census, and is taking steps to ensure that everyone has access to the American Dream.

That is not the case with the current administration. It was reported just this week that White House senior advisor Stephen Miller was pushing his plan to limit citizenship for legal immigration. His plan, long rumored, will make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain citizenship if they have made use of public benefit programs.

His plan does not require congressional approval and is among a list of economic policies aimed at pushing immigrant families into the economic margins. After all, if immigrants are left with the choice between taking their child to the doctor, qualifying for citizenship or facing detention and deportation, is this really a choice?

It appears that some banks are more than willing to carry out Trump’s agenda of creating a system where immigrants have fewer economic rights than others. The risk of detention and deportation or having citizenship stripped are real for immigrants, no matter their documentation or U.S. citizenship status.

Banks and financial institutions are not required by law or regulation to collect citizenship information for checking and savings accounts. But they are choosing to do so. Customers are being asked what their country of citizenship is and if they don’t respond, their accounts are frozen and eventually closed.

In this political climate in which immigrants are being targeted by ICE and scapegoated by the White House, this question does not appear to be an innocent one.

Bank of America was founded as the Bank of Italy in San Francisco in 1904 to serve the needs of many immigrants settling in the United States at that time, providing services denied to them by mainstream banks, which catered only to the wealthy.

Bank of America can honor this history, take a stand against Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda and stop asking for citizenship information; or they can be complicit in stoking fear and destabilizing immigrant communities throughout the country.

It appears that Bank of America, and all banks, have a choice to make, and so far they are standing on the wrong side of history.

Paulina Gonzalez is the executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a non-profit organization in California that advocates for bank and corporate investment, lending and financial services for underserved communities.