The recession and subsequent nosedive of the stock market during the late 2000s probably had you wishing that you had stashed all your money under the mattress instead of in mutual funds and stocks. But carrying your cash around or hiding it in your home isn’t safe, as immigrants who often lack access to traditional banking services know all to well.
Adrian Mendez of the Trenton, New Jersey Police Department told Carlos Avila of The Trentonian that keeping money at home or in a pocket turns immigrants into “walking ATMs,” frequent victims of robbery and violence. On March 30, Sergeant Mendez presented the Trenton police department’s plan to help keep non-U.S. citizens safe from robbery at a community meeting. One of the department’s key plans? Asking local banks (serving areas where many immigrants live) to open savings accounts for people — even if they can’t document their immigration status.
So far, TD Bank and Santander Bank have agreed: Anyone with either a Social Security Number or an Individual Tax Identification Number (which is issued by the IRS) to open an account. Immigrants who work but do not have legal status in the United States often receive an ITIN.
Alba Lopez, who leads a women’s group at the church where Mendez spoke said, “I think this is a very helpful gesture by the TPD [Trenton Police Department], because many of our congregants fear the police and don’t report crimes. This goes a long way to helping build good relationships between our community and the police.”
Mendez added that the police department is “interested in educating the Hispanic community about their rights and responsibilities.”
While Congress continues to debate federal immigration reform, this local connection between immigrants and financial institutions is just the kind of grassroots immigration advocacy that we like to see.