Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bank of American caused an uproar last week when it announced a new program aimed at giving credit cards to illegal aliens. The new Bank of America program, described in depth by the Wall Street Journal, "is open to people who lack both a Social Security number and a credit history, as long as they have held a checking account with the bank for three months without an overdraft." Most adults in the U.S. who do not have a Social Security number are illegal aliens.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Bank of America estimates that about 28 million Hispanics live in its operating area and that most of them, legal or illegal, do not have a bank. Bank of America hopes the credit card program will increase business among Hispanics. "If we don't disproportionately grow in the Hispanic [market]...we aren't going to grow" as a bank, said Liam McGee, Bank of America's consumer and small-business banking chief.
Bank of America tested the credit card program last year at five of its branches in Los Angeles, and last week expanded it to 51 branches in Los Angeles County, home to the largest concentration of illegal immigrants in the U.S. The bank hopes to roll out the program nationally later this year.
In the Wall Street Journal, Bank of America defended its credit card program as legal, saying it complies with U.S. banking and antiterrorism laws. This appears to be true. After 9/11, Congress added provisions to the Patriot Act intended to stop U.S. banks from being used as conduits for money laundering and terrorist financing. In particular, Section 326 of the Patriot Act required all banks to take steps to ensure that they could reasonably verify the identity of customers opening accounts. However, when the U.S. Treasury promulgated regulations in 2003 to implement Section 326, it made a variety of exceptions favoring big business. These exceptions allowed banks to accept unreliable information, such as Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) and foreign consular identification cards, to establish identity.
The Chicago Tribune reports that despite Bank of America's recent move to capture the Hispanic market, it was Wells Fargo that kicked off the competition in 2001, when it became the first U.S. bank to accept identification cards from Mexican consulates to open an account. Since then, Wells Fargo has opened more than 1 million accounts for Mexicans using the consular card. It also accepts Guatemalan, Argentine and Colombian identity cards. The assumption is that most immigrants using the cards to identify themselves are here illegally, said a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, but the bank doesn't ask. The Chicago Tribune also reports that Citibank issues credit cards to some aliens without Social Security numbers if they have taxpayer identification numbers. Citibank issues such cards under its own brand and the brand of its subsidiary, Banamex USA.
Back to top

Democrats Seek Alliance with Bush on "Comprehensive" Immigration Reform
Democratic leaders proved last week that powerful special interests can trump even bitter partisanship by reaching out to forge an alliance with President Bush on the issue of "comprehensive" immigration reform. In a meeting between the President and Congressional leaders of both parties last Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) urged Bush to participate in shaping immigration reform legislation on Capitol Hill.
Speaking to CongressDaily after the meeting, Reid stated it was not enough for the President simply to state his desire for "comprehensive" immigration reform. "[President Bush]," he said, "needs to assign people to be working with us on a daily basis to get this done…I want their input." Senator Reid continued by suggesting the President need not submit a specific proposal for action to take place in committee, but indicated that he wanted the White House involved in the process. "We want to know how the White House feels. I want them there every day when we're working on this to give us their ideas….Unless the President weighs in on this, it's going to be very tough sledding."
A White House official responded to Majority Leader Reid's statements by saying the President was committed to putting serious effort into moving an immigration bill. He indicated that White House aides have already had conversations with lawmakers and would be involved in the process as soon as the Democrats turned from their "first 100 hours" agenda, according to CongressDaily. "Rest assured, comprehensive immigration reform is at the top of the priority list for the president," the official said.
Back to top

Voinovich Succeeds in Adding Visa Waiver Expansion Language into 9/11 Security Bill
During last week's mark-up of the 9/11 Commission bill in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, an amendment offered by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) to expand the Visa Waiver Program was adopted. The amendment, based on the same premise as Senator Voinovich's visa wavier bill (S.342), relaxes the criteria for participation in the Visa Waiver Program by allowing the Department of Homeland Security to waive the visa refusal rate when determining whether a country may participate. The visa refusal rate is the rate at which U.S. officials deny visas to foreign nationals of a particular country based on immigration or security concern. Under current law, a low visa refusal rate is required to participate in the Visa Waiver Program.
In January, Senator Voinovich introduced a bill (S.342) that would have accomplished a similar goal—legislatively implementing President Bush's proposal to expand the Visa Waiver Program. As introduced, Senator Voinovich's bill created a pilot program allowing five countries to participate in the Visa Waiver Program under relaxed visa refusal criteria. Senator Voinovich's amendment to the 9/11 Commission bill, however, went far beyond his original bill by allowing an unlimited number of countries to participate in the Visa Waiver Program without satisfying current visa refusal rate requirements so long as they meet other security criteria. The amendment was adopted without opposition in the Senate Homeland Security Committee and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Critics maintain that the Senator's plan to expand the Visa Waiver Program will be detrimental to national security as several terrorists - including 9/11 conspirator Zarcarias Moussaoui - boarded planes to the United States with passports issued in visa waiver countries. Loosening an already broken immigration system will only serve to undermine the spirit of the 9/11 Commission's suggestions for a safer America, the basis of the 9/11 Commission bill. The 9/11 Commission bill, as amended, will now be sent to the Senate Floor for consideration. Debate on the bill is expected to begin after the Presidents' Day recess.
Back to top

Senator Collins Introduces Legislation to Delay Implementation of REAL ID Act
On February 13, 2007, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, introduced legislation to delay the implementation of the REAL ID Act. The REAL ID Act, passed in 2005, provides that states must implement a core set of standards for issuing driver's licenses in order for those licenses to be accepted as identification by federal agencies. Under current law, all states must comply with the REAL ID Act by May 2008.
According to a released statement, Senator Collins' legislation would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to delay or waive the requirements for REAL ID compliance if states do not have the ability, or technical capability to comply. In addition, her bill would create a committee of federal officials, state officials, privacy advocates, and other interested parties to review the proposed regulations and to suggest modifications.
Senator Collins announced her intent to delay implementation of the REAL ID Act after meeting with officials from the State of Maine. The Maine Legislature, as FAIR reported last week, was the first state legislature to formally adopt a resolution opposing the REAL ID Act. Senator Collins says her bill would give states "a more reasonable time frame" to comply with these federal standards. The bill, S.563, is co-sponsored by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
Back to top

Update on the Ramos-Compean Case
Members of Congress continue to speak out on this case and pressure President Bush to pardon Agents Ramos and Compean. An article appearing in Saturday's Washington Post provides readers with a good summary of recent events. It reads:
Early last week, the Bush administration urged angry conservatives to remain calm over the convictions of two former Border Patrol agents who shot an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler, but petitions for their release continued to flood the White House.It did not help that one of the agents, Ignacio Ramos, was beaten by Latino gang members in his cell at the Yazoo City Federal Correctional Complex in Mississippi. Days after prison officials confirmed the attack on Feb. 8, Department of Homeland Security officials admitted that an inspector general's report erroneously quoted Border Patrol agents as saying Ramos and his partner, Jose Compean, intended to kill Mexicans. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., founder of the House Immigration Reform Caucus and a presidential candidate, visited Ramos in prison and told him of the movement against his incarceration, including candlelight vigils, rallies and a storm of criticism on conservative talk radio and television.Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, threatened to call for impeachment proceedings against President Bush if the agents were harmed in prison, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., promised to look into the matter. John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said the 700 people who will attend the organization's annual convention in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25 will "speak with one voice" against the prosecution and conviction of the agents. The union, which represents Border Patrol agents and other federal workers, implored Bush in a letter this month to pardon Ramos and Compean.
To read the full article, click here.
In addition, this week Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) circulated a letter to Congressional leaders requesting that they conduct immediate hearings into all aspects of the case. The letter further states: "The implications of this case are far reaching for the control and security of America's borders. Our Border Patrol agents have an especially dangerous and difficult job, and because of the outcome of this case, many are now second guessing themselves and questioning when and where they should draw their weapons out of fear of prosecution." The letter currently has at least 13 cosigners, including Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), John Culberson (R-TX), Walter Jones (R-NC), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Ralph Hall (R-TX), Dan Burton (R-IN), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Barbara Cubin (R-WY), Ed Royce (R-CA), and Tom Tancredo (R-CO).
After the letter is circulated, it will be sent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. John Conyers (Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee), Rep. Bennie Thompson (Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee) and Rep. Henry Waxman (Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee). Stay tuned to FAIR for more updates on the Ramos-Compean case.
Back to top

Recent Floor Statements
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) commented on Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform (February 16, 2007)
Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) commented on Introduction Of The "Law Enforcement Officers Equity Act,'' H.R. 1073 (February 15, 2007)
Rep. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) commented on Real ID Card (February 15, 2007)
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) commented on The Sign Must Stay (February 12, 2007)
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) commented on United States Border Patrol Agents Campion And Ramos (February 12, 2007)