- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2004

A new Bank of America program allowing Mexican nationals in the United States to wire cash home has raised concern among law enforcement officials and others who question whether it also gives terrorists and drug smugglers a new way to route illicit cash out of the country.

The program, known as “SafeSend,” provides online access for Mexican nationals to transfer money from “any phone or computer” to relatives or associates in Mexico who hold a SafeSend automated teller machine card.

Detailed on the bank’s Web site (www.bankofamerica.com) in both English and Spanish, the program guarantees delivery of cash transactions of up to $1,500 each in “less than six minutes” for a $10 fee. The Web site says cash transfers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said SafeSend “clearly is designed to promote felonious behavior,” saying it allows the anonymous and unrestricted movement of cash between the two nations.

“It is another program offered by yet another institution willing to put its bottom line ahead of national security,” Mr. Stein said. “Since they won’t know who’s using their cards, because there are no safeguards against document fraud, it will be possible for anyone to route money anonymously — including terrorists.”

Bank of America spokeswoman Terry Bolling said SafeSend complies with federal law, including the USA Patriot Act, in requiring proper identification to open an account and limiting the amount of cash that can be sent in any given transaction.

Miss Bolling, who described Mexican nationals as “an important segment” of the bank’s customer base, noted that the $1,500-per-transaction limit is well below government reporting requirements for cash transactions of $10,000 in a single day. She said she did not know, however, how many SafeSend transactions a person could make per day.

Mike Cutler, a retired Immigration and Naturalization Service senior agent who headed major INS investigations into drug trafficking for more than two decades, said foreign nationals have the right to wire money to other countries, but they need to meet strict reporting requirements and other national security concerns.

“I can almost hear a sucking sound as yet more money leaves our country, adversely impacting our economy and increasing our nation’s debt,” Mr. Cutler said. “And, of course, all of the money will have been earned by hardworking aliens, not to be confused with those who earn their money through such nefarious activities as drug smuggling.”

Mr. Cutler also said SafeSend cannot guarantee the identities of those who send or receive cash at a time when document fraud “has become a booming cottage industry.”

Studies show that Mexican nationals in the United States will send $14 billion home this year. Nearly 20 percent of Mexico’s 100 million people regularly receive cash from relatives and others in the United States.

SafeSend requires the sender to have a Social Security number, although the bank’s Web site says those without a card can enroll by calling a toll-free number. Other requirements are an e-mail address and a valid check or credit card, which the bank noted it can help the applicants obtain. The site also notes that the sender has control over the system because it is an “automated process, so there are fewer intermediaries.”

Bank of America was a leading proponent of the digitally coded “matricula consular cards” issued by Mexico to its citizens in the United States. The cards are used by Mexican nationals as legal forms of identification. Nearly 1 million were issued last year, despite law enforcement warnings of potential widespread document fraud.

FBI Assistant Director Steve McCraw, who heads the bureau’s Office of Intelligence, told a House subcommittee this year that the matricula cards were being used by illegal aliens, noting that foreign nationals in this country already had other forms of legal identification, including passports.

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