Treasury Department Considering Blocking Bank Accounts For Immigrants; ACLU Calls Move Unnecessary, Unfair, Opening for National ID

July 17, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Referring to the Treasury Department’s decision to reconsider regulations – finalized after September 11 – that allow non-citizens to use safe and secure foreign-issued identification when opening bank accounts, the American Civil Liberties Union today called the move unfair, fundamentally unnecessary in the fight against terrorism and the next step toward opening the door for a national identification card for all Americans.

“The Treasury Department’s decision has nothing to do with 9/11 or stopping terrorism – it’s a move to placate extreme anti-immigration groups,” said Mariana Bustamante, Education Coordinator with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It’s almost silly if you think about it. How does blocking a Mexican or any other immigrant from opening a checking account at Citibank rationally address the threat of al-Qaeda or international terrorism?”

The Treasury Department has opened a comment period–which expires July 31–for reconsideration of the regulations allowing the use of foreign identification in banking and other financial activities. The original provision was actually finalized several months after 9/11 in compliance with the USA PATRIOT Act. The move comes in response to a new campaign by anti-immigrant groups to permit immigrants to use only American identification, which would make it more difficult for immigrants to send remittances to their home countries and function in society.

Additionally, the House of Representatives, in an unusually close vote yesterday agreed to an amendment that, if passed into law, would impose strict record keeping and reporting requirements on foreign governments that issue identifications. The amendment, sponsored by Immigration Subcommittee Chair John Hostettler (R-IN), passed by a vote of 226 to 198, with 21 Republicans voting against.

Although the plan to change Treasury’s policies applies to virtually all foreign identification documents, it will most severely affect immigrants carrying the Mexican matricula consular, a highly secure ID card accepted currently by more than 400 cities, 80 financial institutions, 825 law enforcement agencies and 14 states as valid identification.

Were the matricula to be outlawed as identification, literally thousands of legal, law-abiding non-citizens – who often have to endure long waits for U.S. identification – would be unable to open bank accounts or conduct other business. Past experience suggests that such a draconian move would prompt immigrants to rely on illegal institutions, or institutions that charge exorbitant check cashing fees. Worse, it would make them more appealing targets of crime by forcing them to carry large amounts of cash.

The policy review at Treasury is also troubling to privacy advocates who fear that the irrational disqualification of otherwise a valid identification by the government could lead to the adoption of one standardized ID card for all Americans, a hallmark of authoritarian regimes around the globe.

“Since 9/11, the left and the right have come together over the slew of privacy eroding measures adopted by the government,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Privacy advocates should know that this could very easily lead us down the road to a national ID by invalidating state-issued IDs. Today it’s the matricula – tomorrow it’s your driver’s license.”

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