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Bank of America Freezing Accounts Of Suspected Non-Citizens

Above: Bank of America by Mike Mozart from Flickr.

In recent months, the Trump administration has launched an unprecedented assault on the immigrant community, highlighted by a “zero tolerance” policy that has left as many as 500 children separated from their parents. But it’s not just the federal government that’s persecuting this vulnerable group. As the Miami Herald reports, Bank of America is freezing the account of customers whose U.S. citizenship it deems suspect.

One such customer is Saeed Moshfegh, a 36-year-old Iranian student working on his doctorate in physics at the University of Miami. In the past, Moshfegh simply had to present proof of legal residency every six months in order to keep his account open—a process he described as onerous but navigable. Yet when he appeared at his local branch near South Miami earlier this month, he was informed that his paperwork was suddenly invalid. His funds frozen, Moshfegh was unable to make his rent or credit card payments.

“This bank doesn’t know how the immigration system works,” he told the Herald, “so they didn’t accept my document.”

A Bank of America spokeswoman maintains that company policy has gone unchanged for at least a decade, issuing the following statement to HuffPost:

The regulations are not meant to determine immigration status. Like other banks, we ask for information about citizenship so that we can comply with country-specific sanctions as well as customer due diligence requirements imposed by the U.S. government. Citizenship status is not considered when it comes to establishing bank accounts and citizenship status of our customers is not shared with any other party. Like all globally active banks, our customers are citizens of many different countries. Over time, we ask all customers to verify their information is current. If we don’t hear back from a customer in response to our outreach, as a last resort, we may restrict the account until we can confirm it is in compliance with regulatory requirements. Our goal is to minimize customer inconvenience while ensuring we have strong controls in place to reduce the risk of financial crimes, and complying with the laws and regulations cited above.

But Moshfegh is not the only client to be locked out of his account. In July, The Washington Post spotlighted a couple from outside Kansas City whose debit cards were deactivated after they failed to return a mailer about their citizenship status. Paulina Gonzalez, the executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, an advocacy group that works on behalf of communities of color across the state, informs the Herald she has received several such complaints—virtually all of them from Bank of America clients.

“This is new,” Gonzalez tells the Post. “We have Bank of America customers who we’ve spoken to who have never been asked [about their citizenship status] before last year. If they have this asked of them before they can show us.”

While banks are obligated to report suspicious transactions, there’s no legal statute requiring they receive proof of citizenship from a client to open or maintain an account. And according to Stephanie Collins, a spokesperson for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, there have been no new directives to that effect.

The allegations leveled against Bank of America come at a time when federal officials are revoking passports of many U.S. citizens living along the border. Earlier this year, the Census Bureau announced that it would be adding a citizenship question to the 2020 form—a decision that could ultimately limit the funds distributed to immigrant communities for years if not decades to come.

Read more at The Miami Herald.

Jacob Sugarman is a contributing editor at Truthdig. He is a graduate of the Arthur L. Carter Institute of Journalism whose writing has appeared in Salon, AlterNet and Tablet, among other publications.

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