Can a Credit Union Serve Immigrants?

There are 42.4 million immigrants in the United States, which makes up 13.3% of our total population. If you include the children of those immigrants who were born in the United States, that totals 81 million people. This means that 26% of our total population are families with immigrants!

I feel this reinforces many facts we often forget. We are a nation of immigrants, immigrants have always been key to our population and economic growth, and a substantial part of our population continues to be first generation Americans.

I think sometimes the rhetoric in the news about immigrants tends to overwhelm people, and media consumers are encouraged to view the immigrant population with suspicion. We forget immigrants are really quite ordinary people who need ordinary services, like a place to deposit a paycheck or a place to get a car loan. When I was a bank examiner, I came across a bank that filed a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) on a dentist, because he was foreign born. There were really no other factors that seemed suspicious or unusual about the man, other than he was from abroad, and now needed access to banking services as he practiced dentistry in the United States. To me, this seemed like a bit of an overreaction.

But for many of us who have lived our entire lives in the Dakotas and do not have frequent exposure to immigrants, how are we supposed to know when it is okay to bank with somebody who wasn’t born here? I think it is a legitimate question, so let’s look for some legitimate answers.

The key phrase you will usually encounter when dealing with government worded guidance is that someone must be a “lawfully admitted alien.”  The definition of “lawfully admitted” means an alien remains in status as a permanent resident, conditional permanent resident, or temporary resident.

The hardest status to understand is the category of temporary resident. A temporary resident has a visa to study or be employed in the United States, but cannot remain here as a permanent resident; whereas, a permanent resident can remain in the United States indefinitely and possesses a famed “green card.” Therefore, you may need to take into consideration the length of stay for a temporary resident, but a permanent resident shouldn’t be viewed any differently than an ordinary citizen. A permanent resident will have a social security number, driver’s license, and can work most jobs in the United States, but cannot engage in the political process.

If a permanent resident chooses to become a citizen and is successful in doing so, they become a “naturalized” citizen. Naturalized citizens are afforded all the same rights, responsibilities, and opportunities as a citizen, except they cannot be President of the United States. They can still engage in the political process and even hold elected office. An example would be Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was born in Austria, but became a naturalized citizen, and later became governor of California.

No matter someone’s legal status, you are always going to check the OFAC list before doing business with them, and collect the identifying information. Even if someone is an immigrant, any naturalized citizens or permanent residents will possess the same documents for identification as any natural born citizen. So in reality, having immigrants as members should be no different than members born in the US. And, I would argue that the fact they are immigrants alone shouldn’t raise suspicion or concern.