Why the fuss over Bank of America giving credit cards to illegal immigrants?

A credit card is fundamentally a simple business agreement between a bank and a customer. A bank issues credit cards because it stands to make (or lose) money by making temporary loans to its customers. The customer can choose to take the card if he believes its convenience and safety offset the extra cost of using the card. There's nothing in that dry business arrangement that changes the government's immigration policy.


In short, a credit card does not confer citizenship to the customer. Having a credit card from an American bank doesn't make you American any more than buying a Starbucks' Venti makes you Italian.


Of course, you wouldn't know any of that by the reaction to last week's news that Bank of America, in a pilot program in Los Angeles, is issuing credit cards to those who have no Social Security numbers but do have taxpayer identification numbers. (People who pay taxes but have no Social Security number typically are illegal immigrants who have established work in this country.)


Talk radio and cable news shows were peppered with the usual inflated outrage. At least one nettled official of an anti-immigration group asked the U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the matter.


Those who object say that the credit card program is essentially aiding and abetting illegal immigrants by making their lives in the United States more financially convenient.


The flaw in that logic is that they're confusing a business-customer relationship with a government policy. Businesses are supposed to serve customers and make a profit, not enforce immigration policy.


If the government wants to keep illegals out of the country, the government needs to patrol its borders. If the government wants to discourage illegal immigrants from settling in this country, then states should not issue them drivers licenses. If the government truly wants to expel illegals from the country, the government should round them up and deport them.


But that is separate and distinct from a bank credit card program, one that meets usual legal and regulatory regulations. If the bank wants to assume the risk of making loans to the undocumented, that's a business risk for the bank to make. That's not a policy on immigration.


The best argument made by opponents is that the bank is not merely serving illegal immigrants but actively targeting them.


But that's still a bit disingenuous. You can't live in Los Angeles without "targeting" them in some way. Chances are, you've hired the undocumented to work in your garden or wash your car or paint your house. If you look for the lowest-cost provider of such services, you're targeting them.


If you have a fast-food franchise or run a construction company, you may have them on your payroll. If you have a retail shop with a "Hablamos Espanol" sign on the door, you probably are luring a few illegals in.


There are who knows? maybe a million illegals in L.A. County, and businesses and people knowingly buy their services and sell stuff to them all the time. If you're angry about that, your beef is with the government, not the businesses.


Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com .

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