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Houston Chronicle (KRTBN)
To Some Houston Banks, Undocumented Residents Represent Untapped Market
by JENALIA MORENO, Houston Chronicle Staff Writer
April 18, 2004
No problema, some banks and lenders say to undocumented immigrants.
Banco Popular is one bank that gives undocumented immigrants home loans, provided they have an individual taxpayer identification number. Other banks will likely soon offer undocumented immigrants home loans, Banco Popular officials predict.
"It's not going to be long before a lot of people are out there tapping it," said Mike Carr, regional executive for Banco Popular, which is based in Puerto Rico.
Good credit and a job history are necessary to take out a loan, as well as abiding by the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, which requires banks to check the identity of their customers. But legal status in the United States is not.
"It's not my job to determine if somebody is here legally or illegally," Carr said.
The bank is helping an underserved market, he said.
"You take the underground economy and you bring it to the surface," Carr said.
There is the troublesome question of deportations, but banks are willing to take that risk.
Several people in the local real estate community praised such programs.
"That's a positive thing that will help immigrants buy homes," said Henry Cisneros, the former secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department who is helping to build affordable homes for minorities and immigrants in Houston and other cities.
But Steven Camarota, director of research at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to limit immigration, said banks are undermining immigration laws by using the tax identification number to give home loans to undocumented immigrants.
The nine-digit individual tax identification number was issued by the Internal Revenue Service beginning in 1996 to foreigners who don't qualify for a Social Security card but still owe taxes.
The number was intended for foreigners with investments in the United States, for example.
But recently, the IRS has adopted more-strict regulations for issuing these numbers because too many immigrants were using them for reasons other than filing taxes, a spokeswoman said.
Between July 1996 and December 2003, the agency issued 7 million individual tax identification numbers. But about a quarter of those numbers have not been used to file taxes, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson said in a written release.
Instead, immigrants used the number as a form of identification, to get a driver's license or to buy a home, the spokeswoman said.
So in December, the IRS required that a tax return accompany all applications for the individual tax identification number.
Foreign-born individuals receive the number and then file their taxes.
But immigrants who already have the tax number can still apply for home loans with some lenders.