It appears with every passing day, the experience of being a person of color or a non-citizen in today’s America is getting more and more daunting.
Case in point: Numerous legal non-citizens in the country, who also happen to be the customers of the Bank of America, found out in recent months that they have been locked out of their accounts for no apparent reason.
According to a report published by the Miami Herald, Saeed Moshfegh, an Iranian getting his Ph.D in physics at the University of Miami, woke up earlier this month to find out despite having plenty of money in his account in Bank of America, he was unable to access it.
In order to regain access to his account, Moshfegh reportedly had to show proof of legal residency every six months. However, when he did so, the bank reportedly refused to accept documentation that demonstrated his status as a student.
“I think it’s onerous, but I’d been doing it,” said Moshfegh, who has lived in the U.S. for the past seven years.
“This bank doesn’t know how the immigration system works, so they didn’t accept my document. “It’s not the business of Bank of America to shut down someone’s account,” he said. “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.”
Moreover, Moshfeg failed to pay his rent and his credit card payments were also denied because his account was frozen.
However, this wasn’t an isolated case.
In recent months, other customers of the Bank of America have complained about having their accounts frozen after they were asked questions about their legal status in the country.
Dan Hernandez, a television writer of Cuban heritage, was reportedly suspected of doing business in Cuba. As a result, his business account was suspended in December 2016.
The issue was later resolved but the entire episode was pretty disturbing for Hernandez.
“It was extremely scary,” saidHernandez. “I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, but it puts doubt in your mind. A bank can crush your life for arbitrary reasons and never tell you why.”
Likewise, Kansas-born Josh Collins, received an unusual-looking letter from the bank asking about his citizenship status. He ignored it, thinking it was a spam —only to have his account frozen a few weeks later.
He retrieved access to account when he presented his driver’s license at a local branch.
In its defense, the company said it inquired about the citizenship status of its customers in order to comply with country-specific sanctions and to keep the information up-to-date.
“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,” saidbank spokeswoman Carla Molina.
However, according to Stephanie Collins, a spokesperson for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, any proof of citizenship is not required to open a bank account in the country. The federal law only requires the applicant to provide with their date of birth, residential address and Social Security number.
Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, said citizenship-related questions didn’t seem to be a part of some regulatory practice of the company.
“We work with consumer groups and financial counselors in immigrant communities across [California] and the country,” she said in an email. “This is new. We have Bank of America customers who we’ve spoken to who have never been asked this before last year. If they have this asked of them before they can show us proof.”
Gonzalez went on to say the bank’s scrutiny seems consistent with the anti-immigrant sentiment prevalent in the country these days.
“Fear is gripping these communities,” Gonzalez said. “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. To be faced with this question in order to do banking seems as un-American as you can get.”
Subsequently, Gonzalez’s coalition has now launched a petition, “Tell Bank of America: Stand with immigrants,” which called out the company for assisting the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigrants, and called on the bank to “protect immigrants’ civil rights and stop collecting information about the citizenship status of its customers.”
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