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U.S. banking policies foster immigration lawlessness

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U.S. banking policies foster immigration lawlessness

By Rep. Elton Gallegly

While a strong presence on our southern border is imperative, the border cannot be secured unless we enforce our internal laws and stop ignoring the open complicity of U.S. companies and foreign nations to promote illegal activities.

While Mexico is not the only country to market its consular card to illegal immigrants in the United States, and Wells Fargo Bank is not the only financial institution actively seeking the lucrative illegal market, they were the first. Together, their activities undermine the security of the United States.

Mexico's matricula consular card and Wells Fargo's acceptance of it is a case study in how greed leads to flouting our laws, leaving the United States vulnerable to an invasion of illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and, in the worst-case scenario, terrorists.

A little background is in order. Foreign consulates in the United States have been issuing consular cards to their citizens here for 135 years. However, it's only since 9/11 that foreign governments began lobbying local governments to accept them as legitimate identification.

Consular cards were not designed to be identification and no treaty recognizes them as such. Legal travelers, visitors and long-term residents carried passports, visas or green cards for that purpose. Consular cards were simply a contact card, such as a child might carry so his or her parents could be contacted in the event of an emergency.

From 1871 to 2001, only a handful were issued each year. But since 2002, Mexico alone has issued more than 4 million to its nationals in the United States. Consular offices make no attempt to determine whether the person obtaining the card is legally in the United States. In fact, the only people who need these cards are illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists. Consular cards also are easily forged.

By earlier this year, Wells Fargo was boasting that it had opened 700,000 accounts with consular cards. Other financial institutions soon followed suit. Today, some 200 banks accept consular cards as legitimate identification to open accounts, transfer funds and take out loans. While I am a firm believer in capitalism, I believe it must be tempered with responsibility. Capitalism without responsibility is greed. Banks that facilitate illegal activity are complicit in those acts.

Wells Fargo doesn't even try to hide it. When it announced in late 2002 that it was beginning to accept Guatemalan cards, company officials made it clear they knew who their target audience was.

"The Mexican matricula has proven to be an effective method of helping Mexican nationals … and we wanted to provide the same opportunity for Guatemalan citizens," Shelley Benson, market president for Wells Fargo Downtown Los Angeles Community Bank, stated in a press release.

Notice she didn't say U.S. nationals or U.S. citizens of Mexican or Guatemalan heritage.

Two years later, a Wells Fargo official, speaking about marketing to the underground community, noted: "And we also consider cash income, since a lot of these individuals are paid in cash."

As are drug runners.

And last year, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman told the media: "We are not in the business of immigration. We don't question any customer … who comes into our financial institution of their legal or illegal status."

This is a foreign terrorist's dream, as terrorists need cash to carry out their plots. A case could be made that such inaction violates laws requiring banks to know their customers and report any illegal activity.

But Wells Fargo need not worry; the federal government is complicit in this charade. In May 2003, the Treasury Department issued regulations allowing banks to accept the cards as proof of identity.

Terrorism is but one threat from such loose regulations on identity. For decades before 9/11, closing down money-laundering operations was an effective tool to impede drug cartels. Both the war on terror and the war on drugs are imperiled by banks that accept easily forged documentation.

Consider that in March, Wells Fargo became the first U.S. bank to accept consular cards from cocaine-rich Colombia. Even if drug smuggling or terrorism did not exist, Wells Fargo's policies still violate America's interests.

Every unskilled illegal immigrant who enters the United States for work takes a job away from an unskilled American or, at the very least, drives down the wages for unskilled workers. Illegal immigration's downward pressure on wages is why even Cesar Chavez opposed illegal immigration.

Every unskilled illegal immigrant who enters the United States for work drives up healthcare costs for every American. And, every illegal immigrant we turn a blind eye toward weakens the rule of law our country is founded on.

We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. The policies of Wells Fargo and the other 200 financial institutions foster lawlessness, and lawlessness should not be tolerated in the United States - not from nationals of other countries nor from U.S. bank officials.

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