Seek bank OK of consular ID cards

City Councilmember Eric Gioia joined Bronx Assemblymember Peter Rivera at the Ecuadorian consulate to announce a bill introduced in the State Assembly that would require banks to accept the consular identification cards from Mexico and Ecuador for new accounts.

The purpose of the bill, according to Gioia and Rivera, is twofold – to pump money into the financial system and to reduce crime.

Skepticism could arise over acceptance of consular identification cards for banking however, just as criticism of driver’s licenses for undocumented New Yorkers.

It has been argued buy some, like Congressmember Tom Tancredo of Colorado, that if banks accepted consular identification cards, the act would encourage illegal immigration.

On the other hand, Gioia said, passage of the bill could benefit the banking industry because an increase in bank deposits could stimulate the flow of cash. The bill would also help immigrants join the financial mainstream, “so that they can achieve the American dream,” he said.

“People have hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars throughout their homes,” said Gioia. “There are millions of dollars unbanked.”

Another side benefit would be a decline in robberies.

“Everyday you hear about robberies against immigrants,” said Rivera, who represents the 76th Assembly District. “If you are out of work and you want to make easy money, just follow an immigrant.”

Many immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, do not have a federal or state identification card and so cannot deposit their money in banks that do not accept foreign government identification cards.

Since these immigrants tend to cash their checks at check cashing businesses, carry cash home on their person and then hide there, they become easy targets for robberies, said Rivera.

Five banks – Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, Wachovia and Banco Popular of Puerto Rico – currently accept foreign identification cards. However, these banks do not have branches in every neighborhood in the city or around the state. Several states, California and Missouri among them, have changed their banking laws to allow immigrants to bank using consular identification cards.

If the law passes in New York, immigrants from Mexico and Ecuador would the first allowed to bank because their consulates have some of the highest standards for identification cards, said Ecuador’s Consul General Jorge López.

New York State had between 600,000 and 700,000 Ecuadorian and Mexican nationals, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.