Desert Schools' Program Targets Undocumented Migrants, Accepts Consular Cards
PHOENIX -- The $2.7 billion Desert Schools Federal Credit Union is bracing for possible negative feedback from some of its more than 334,000 members over a savings program targeted at undocumented migrants.
The program, a special savings program, has been in place since January 2004, but generally has not been very well advertised, according to Emma Garcia, Desert Schools director of community development.
The CU established the program because, at that time it was a SEG-based credit union and there were calls for such a program from among the SEGs on account of their undocumented workers, Garcia explained. Since then the CU has adopted a community charter and begun advertising the program more aggressively, including on a Spanish language radio program it helps sponsor, she said.
That additional advertising may be what has drawn the increased attention, she speculated.
Undocumented migrants have to show a so-called Matricula Consular in order to identify themselves for the accounts. The CU began the program soon after it began to take the Matricula as identification for membership. Matricula Consular cards are issued by Mexican consulates to their nationals living in the U.S. without documents and have been a source of controversy in the past. Critics have charged the Mexican government has not been sufficiently thorough in issuing them and that they are too easily forged.
The migrants must also present a taxpayer identification number or the CU will file a form with the IRS identifying the person as an alien who does not have to file taxes in the U.S., Garcia explained.
The migrants become members of the CU, but in a sense it is an abbreviated membership since Desert Schools requires all credit applicants to have a social security number, she added. But the program still provides a very useful service by allowing the migrants to put their often-large sums of cash in a more secure location than their cars or at home, advocates say.
"There has been a rising crime rate with this population because they are known to so often have large amounts of cash,' Garcia said.
The credit union is bracing for a backlash against the program from its other members, but Garcia said that none has yet materialized. She said the CU had a very small protest in January 2004 when it began accepting the Matricula, but nothing since.
Garcia wasn't sure exactly how many of the accounts Desert Schools has opened so far. --firstname.lastname@example.org