- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

Few might recall that when Bank of America was first created it was called Bank of Italy. The company began as a creditor for immigrants, at that time Italian immigrants, whom the larger banks ignored. That fact might give some context to the recent furor over Bank of America’s pilot program of giving illegal aliens credit cards. Of course the difference between then and now is a matter of legality. The immigrants Bank of America (then Italy) did business with were legal, whereas today they are not. And that difference makes all the difference in the world.

Although the Department of Homeland Security has raised questions about the program, calling it “problematic,” there is little reason to believe that on its face what Bank of America is doing is illegal. It also strains the imagination to think that Bank of America, as one of the largest banks in the world, didn’t have its lawyers thoroughly vet the program for any potential problems. But if DHS upon review finds the program illegal, then by all means the federal government should shut it down. But if it’s not illegal, the question goes to Congress: Why isn’t it illegal?

For some time, banks have been offering illegal aliens checking accounts and mortgages. Bank of America, however, has gone one step further by offering credit cards to applicants without Social Security numbers or credit histories — which is to say, it is actively targeting illegals. Critics are projecting all sorts of malicious intent in this, but the fact is that Bank of America, like any other bank or business, is out to make a buck and discover new untapped markets. Apparently, the 12 million or so illegal aliens in the country are too much of a temptation to pass up.

We’re not one for bashing businesses out to make a profit, but Bank of America should have some concern for what its program will do to the country’s immigration crisis. By further eroding the incentive for a foreigner to enter the country legally or an illegal alien’s incentive to seek citizenship, Bank of America is directly contributing to the problem. The program is also an alluring opportunity for more sinister characters to take advantage of America’s open society, such as increasing the chances of identity theft and money laundering. The worst-case scenario, as Rep. Tom Tancredo put it, is that Bank of America might unwittingly extend a line of credit to a potential terrorist.

These are serious issues that Bank of America, knowingly or not, is refusing to acknowledge. As Adam Smith wrote a long time ago, the free market can only work in civilized societies in which businessmen act according to some measure of moral responsibility. This program is a blatant violation of that duty. As such, even if by the letter of the law the program is legal, Bank of America must shut it down.

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