Bank of America has begun quietly offering credit cards to customers in the Los Angeles are who don't have a Social Security number, The Wall Street Journalreports. Such persons are usually undocumented immigrants.
The newspaper said that Bank of America, the country's second-largest bank, is offering credit cards to consumers who have had an account at the bank for three months or more, even if they do not have a credit history or Social Security number.
It's the latest indication that American financial institutions are serious about doing business with the millions of undocumented immigrants who until recently have had no access to such routine services as checking accounts, credit cards, home mortgages and personal loans.
The newspaper said that Bank of America tested the program at five branches in Los Angeles last year and has now expanded it to 51 additonal branches in Los Angeles County, thought to have the largest concentration of undocumented workers and illegal immigrants in the U.S.
It said the bank hopes to roll the program out nationally later this year.
The credit cards won't be cheap. They carry a high interest rate, typically about 21 percent, and an annual fee, but they do offer a way for non-citizens to build a credit history so that they can purchase cars, homes and other big ticket items on credit.
There is nothing illegal about the practice, Bank of America said. But critics say a major bank should not be helping people who violate immigration laws.
"They are clearly crossing the line; they are actually aiding and abetting people who broke the law," said a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
To review applicants, Bank of America is using a procedure called "judgmental lending," pioneered by MBNA Corp., the credit card giant acquired by the Charlotte-based Bank of America last year. Instead of using credit reports, bank employees make subjective judgments based on their personal observation of the customer.