How NY’s Immigration Reform Could Impact Your Credit Union
Yesterday, Mayor Bill De Blasio, who was busy putting the liberal back in liberal, highlighted the creation of a city ID card that could be used to, among other things, open a bank account. For those of you outside the Big Apple it is a discussion worth watching. With more than half of the Assemblymen in the State Legislature residing in the City, what NYC does may very well help shape state-wide debates.
The Mayor’s speech triggered some of my increasingly aged brain cells. For almost fifteen years immigration groups have lobbied for the acceptance of identification cards other than a drivers license. For instance, for years there was a bill debated in the State Legislature that would have required banks to accept Consular Identification Cards for members seeking to open accounts.
Now, I understand that immigration is a hot button issue. It is hard to discuss the legalities of accepting alternative forms of identification when opening bank accounts. Let’s be honest, the primary use of alternative forms of government identification is to facilitate essential services for undocumented aliens. Whether you are for or against immigration, the federal government’s unwillingness to provide definitive guidance on what types of alternative identification are acceptable is just short of an abdication of its responsibility, which puts credit unions and their banking counterparts in a no win situation.
Most importantly, section 326 of the USA Patriot Act requires banks and credit unions to establish reasonable procedures for the identification and verification of new account holders. As soon as this statute and its implementing regulations were proposed, the Treasury Department was bombarded with 24,000 comment letters relating to the question of whether the final rules precluded financial institutions from relying on certain forms of identification issued by foreign governments. The Treasury Department responded to these legitimate questions with classic bureaucratic doublespeak, that because of the “divergence of opinion, it makes little sense from a regulatory perspective to specify individual types of documents that cannot be used within the nation itself.”
Read in isolation, this not so artful dodge gives institutions the right to decide for themselves what documentation is appropriate for opening an account. In addition, City-issued cards provide credit unions a solid means of verifying a person’s identity since they would be issued by municipal officials, presumably pursuant to appropriate procedures. However, not even this is all that clear. For instance, finCEN, which oversees implementation of the Bank Secrecy Act, has opined that a bank may not open an account for a U.S. citizen who doesn’t have a tax payer identification number. At the very least, this means that from a BSA perspective a member even with proper identification is not entitled to an interest bearing account since the interest is reportable income.
To be sure, cities such as Los Angeles have developed identification cards similar to that being proposed by De Blasio, but advocates of these proposals would be well advised to couple their efforts on the local level with a push for regulators to further qualify under what circumstances individuals without more common types of identification can be accepted as members consistent with BSA requirements.