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WASHINGTON – Credit unions successfully mustered their grass roots support late on September 14 when they successfully blocked a measure which would have made it significantly more difficult for them to serve immigrants. On July 15 credit union lobbyists had been surprised when Representative John Culberson (R-Texas) sponsored an amendment to the Transportation and Treasury Appropriations bill which would have blocked the Treasury Department from spending any money to enforce its regulation on the so-called Matricula Consular card. The card is identification issued by the Mexican government that allows its undocumented nationals living in the U.S. to open credit union and bank accounts. As of the beginning of 2003 over 350 credit unions and banks across the country, particularly those in areas with large numbers of Hispanic immigrants, accepted the cards. Opponents of the cards argue that they undermine U.S. immigration laws and compromise national security. Card supporters argue that the cards enable immigrants to enter the banking system and take the first steps on the road to financial improvement. Credit union supporters in particular support the use of the card because of the relatively large numbers of Hispanic immigrants who have been drawn to credit unions and to credit union services. Lobbyists had hoped to be able to strip the blocking language out of the legislation when it came before the Appropriations Committee, but in the end had to fight in the full House, combining letter writing and grass roots organizing to change the bill. “Many credit unions in the United States already use matricula identification cards to open financial accounts for non-U.S. citizens, providing a safe alternative for Mexican nationals who otherwise would be forced to use expensive payday and predatory lenders for check-cashing and remittance services,” CUNA wrote in a September 10 letter to all House members. “It is crucial for credit unions, particularly for those in low-income areas, to be able to rely on official documents such as the matricula in opening accounts.” NAFCU also sent a letter, on September 4, to Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, one of the sponsors of the move to strike the blocking language and to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) the ranking member of the Committee who co-sponsored it. NAFCU’s letter raised the supporters’ argument that accepting the matricula actually supports national security efforts: “The language currently included in the bill is counter to the intent of the anti-money laundering provisions found in Section 326 of the USA PATRIOT Act,” NAFCU wrote. “NAFCU supports the Treasury decision that matricula identification cards should be an acceptable form of identification as credit unions seek to verify the identity of their members. The use of matricula cards allows foreign nationals safe alternatives, such as credit unions, to payday and predatory lenders and helps them become part of the U.S. financial system instead of operating outside of it.” In the end the fight came down to grassroots politics, however, as CUNA worked with leagues to mobilize callers on the bill from the afternoon of September 14 into the evening. [email protected]

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