Bank of America

Is Bank of America Really Cracking Down on Undocumented Immigrants?

Has the bank joined the immigration crackdown, or is this just a case of bad customer service?


Stephanie Keith/REUTERS/Newscom

"Bank Of America Faces Backlash After Freezing Accounts Over Citizenship Questions," blares the HuffPost headline. "Bank of America Really Wants to Know Your Citizenship Status," writes Splinter. "Bank of America freezing accounts of suspected undocumented citizens: report," says The Hill.

So is Bank of America trying to stop undocumented immigrants from accessing their money? The short answer is probably not.

All three of those stories are based on a Miami Herald report claiming the bank is "freezing accounts of customers suspected of not being U.S. citizens." The story is built around the experience of Saeed Moshfegh, an Iranian Ph.D student studying in America. Until recently, Moshfegh says he had to show proof to the bank that he was in living in the States legally. Then, earlier this month, the bank rejected his documentation and told him he needed to give them a different form. Moshfegh's funds were frozen. And though they eventually gave him his money, bank officials wouldn't let him keep the account.

He wasn't happy. "It's not the business of Bank of America to shut down someone's account," Moshfegh tells the Herald. "Immigration officers are different from Bank of America—with a bank, I would like to feel respect [and be treated] how they treat other customers. But they treat me as an alien."

The Herald also spoke with Dan Hernandez, a TV writer of Cuban heritage whose business account was suspended in 2016 because Bank of America thought he might be doing business with Cuba. They thought that because his business was called Cuban Missile Inc., after his childhood nickname.

In July, The Kansas City Star reported a similar case. Josh and Jessica Collins are both American citizens who'd been Bank of America customers for almost two decades, so when Josh got a weird-looking letter from the bank asking if he was a citizen, he ignored it. Not long after, their account was frozen. According to The Washington Post, which did a follow-up story on the couple, other Bank of America customers have similar stories.

Many immigration advocates are convinced these instances are proof that Bank of America is helping the Trump administration crack down on undocumented immigration. A petition launched by the California Reinvestment Coalition calls on Bank of America to "stop asking customers about their citizenship status." The petition, which has garnered more than 63,000 signatures, notes that "history will remember which banks stood by immigrants and which ones helped Donald Trump attack them."

"Fear is gripping these communities," the coalition's Paulina Gonzalez tells the Herald. "It's like walking into a grocery store to buy milk and being asked for your citizenship at checkout—banking is one of the core aspects of daily life in this country."

But there's a simpler explanation for these stories: corporate incompetence.

Bank spokesperson Christopher Feeney tells Fast Company that the institution "periodically" looks at its customers' accounts to determine if more up-to-date information is necessary. Due to Treasury Department sanctions against other countries, Bank of America asks customers about "country of citizenship" in order "to ensure adherence to these economic sanctions laws." But Feeney adds that "we do not ask for proof of citizenship."

Feeney's statement could explain why Moshfegh and Hernandez had their accounts frozen. The U.S. has been sanctioning Iran since the 1970s, and its embargo against Cuba has been in place since the 1950s. It's not hard to believe that in its efforts to comply with Treasury Department regulations, Bank of America simply messed up.

Besides, if the bank is working with the Trump administration to target undocumented immigrants, why do most of these cases involve either American citizens or legal immigrants? The case of Josh Collins particularly stands out. If you're cracking down on undocumented immigrants, why question the citizenship of a local news photographer in Kansas who's been banking with you for almost 20 years? If Bank of America doesn't want undocumented immigrants to access their money, someone needs to bring us such a story from an actual undocumented immigrant.

If the accusations turn out to be true, it wouldn't be the first time a bank worked with the feds to target allegedly undesirable people. (Remember Operation Chokepoint?) But in these instances, there's just no evidence to suggest Bank of America is guilty of anything more than bad customer service.

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  1. The easiest way to solve this is for the government to drop the sanctions against Iran and Cuba.

    1. And Russia or is that different for reasons that don’t make a whole lot of sense?

      1. Russia wasn’t mentioned in the article.

        1. Just saying: doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  2. Besides, if the bank is working with the Trump administration to target undocumented immigrants, why do most of these cases involve either American citizens or legal immigrants?

    Maybe because the Trump administration is also targeting legal immigrants and American citizens as part of its nativist crackdown?

    1. Yep, sure that’s it. And don’t let anyone tell you that jumping to conclusions isn’t very reasonable. if they do, they are obviously just racists.

      1. Or maybe they are just jumping to conclusions.

      2. Maybe Cathy really likes her “Jumps to Conclusions” game mat.

    2. I really doubt BoA is working with the Trump administration to target undocumentedillegal immigrants, but if they were, you’d still mostly be hearing about citizens and legal immigrants, because you’d be hearing about them from open borders activists, and they’d know what would make their case better.

    3. Cathy L|8.31.18 @ 2:00PM|#
      Maybe because the Trump administration is also targeting legal immigrants and American citizens as part of its nativist crackdown?

      “How to Identify Trump Derangement Syndrome”
      “People with TDS are all around you. They are sitting in the cubicle next to yours. On college campuses, they are everywhere. When you visit your local Starbucks, it is likely that the person serving your overpriced coffee is dealing with this ailment. While it may not always be easy to spot the signs, there are telltale behaviors that can provide you with clues.
      People suffering from TDS will rail against the president no matter what. Delilah Janson, a civil rights activist, exemplifies this point perfectly. She slammed the president on her blog, for his harsh language towards North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. “Oh my god, I can’t believe he called Kim ‘Little Rocket Man,'” she wrote. “Trump’s gonna start a nuclear war! We’re all gonna die! I’m so scared!””

      Cathy? Stuff it up your ass.

  3. As opposed to this incident there are banks that are refusing to do business with gun manufacturers which is different, but not really at all. But, for the sake of cocktail parties we shall pretend as if it’s different

    1. And BOA is one of them.

  4. “Remember Operation Chokepoint?”

    Remember the only US Senator that voiced opposition to the program?

    1. The only? No, no I don’t. Even a year before that, there were at least two.

      1. Note the date. These were after Trump’s election. Rand was alone opposing it in the Obama administration and after

  5. Clearly they need to close the entire corporation for a day and offer bias training since Starbucks has scientifically proven that the actions of a single low level employee in a single location is evidence of massive institutional racism that can magically be cured with a few hours of being lectured at by a bunch of SJW’s.

  6. Well, doing business with BoA is a risky proposition at best.
    Find a local credit union.

  7. Once upon a time you were required to have a social security number to have a bank account. That was new in the late 50s or early 60s. I know, I was a child but got my card to keep ‘my’ bank account.
    Has that changed?
    Or are the requirements for getting an SSA card loose enough that illegal/undocumented immigrants or foreign nationals can sail through?
    Genuinely curious, but not enough so to do any research if someone knows off the top of their head.

  8. So this may have to do with banking regulations unrelated to immigration issues per se. That is a shocking possibility.

  9. So, suppose BoA simply started cracking down on accounts opened up with fraudulent ID. Would that upset you?

    1. If those “fraudulent ID” cards belonged to People of Color, the Transgendered or Womyn – yes, it would GREATLY upset me.

  10. Disproportionate distribution of outcomes is not merely prima facie evidence of grievous discrimination in the process, policy, or procedure, it is a priori proof.

  11. PuffingtonToast: your one stop source for LIbTard tears and outrage.

  12. Is it even incompetence? Banks are required to adhere to “Know Your Customer” laws, which require them to collect and, in certain ill-defined circumstances, update basic information about customers in order to prevent/defect money laundering and other crimes.

    If you don’t respond to requests for updated information, the conservative approach for the bank is to freeze your account so they don’t run afoul of anti-money laundering/Know Your Customer laws.

    Presumably, the fact that at least two of these customers had connections to countries on the OFAC sanctions list (Cuba and Iran) meant these customers were of slightly higher risk, and required updating of the customer information. When they didn’t respond, the account was frozen.

    It’s been awhile since I’ve practiced in the AML space, but that’s almost certainly what happened. Blame the government for conscripting banks into law enforcement efforts.

  13. Bank of America was busted (with other commercial banks) in 1929 for financing liquor and drug smuggling operations just north of Atlantic City. A way was found to conclude the case without the banks being named in newspaper coverage. Several banks were taken over entirely by government agencies and turned into money laundering operations as double agents before the invasion of Panama. Allow for the possibility that banks as artificial people can be threatened and coerced kind of like real people.

    1. So?

  14. “They treat me as an alien.”

    That is what you are.

  15. If BoA is not doing what was they were accused of is that not a case for a civil law suit? If it is then The Bank should sue for every that Miami Herald and Hufpo has for the damage done to it. This could cause the bank much damage in the immigrant (legal and illegal) populations.

  16. The debate of what people “deserve” and whether those who have it should share is not new. Whether a person has landed in a place of plenty by luck or worked their way in by cunning or toil it is something to be valued.

    Borders are a creation of man and men set the rules as to who crosses them and on what terms. While it may seem unfair to exclude or deny individuals this right we must remember that life is unfair and this is a reality of life. More on an immigrant’s right to enter a world of plenty in the article below.…..lenty.html

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