Immigration deal’s expensive proposition
Advocates worry loan sharks may profit off of fees required for citizenship
ATLANTA – Illegal immigrants could fall prey to loan sharks and other unscrupulous lenders if they have to pay $5,000 in fines and thousands more in fees and back taxes as required under the immigration reform measure now before Congress, some advocates are warning.
Many immigrants work low-wage jobs and have virtually no assets. As a result, they often have poor credit and are forced to borrow on the street.
“We’re real concerned about the potential for fraud,” said Beatriz Ibarra, who studies Hispanic finances for the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy group and a tepid supporter of the draft legislation. “They’ll find a way to pay, but how?”
It is not exactly clear how much time the immigrants would have to pay the fines and fees to achieve legal status and eventually obtain a green card, which confers permanent residency. But because of the backlog of green card applications, immigrants may have up to eight years to come up with the money.
“It’s a lot of money, but if they gave us the opportunity, we’ll see how we can get it,” said a young immigrant mother of a 2-year-old U.S.-born daughter, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of deportation.
The native of Guerrero, Mexico, said she has no idea how she would get the money — which could amount to $3,000 for the initial visa application and $4,000 plus back taxes for a green card. However, she said she is confident she would manage, even though she only makes minimum wage working at a Mexican grocery in Georgia.
To make it across the border, many illegal immigrants pay thousands of dollars to smugglers, who sometimes threaten them with death if they don’t pay their debts. Then, many make low wages working in agriculture, construction and the hotel and restaurant industry. Out of that, they often send money back home to support their families. And because they are illegal, they tend to distrust banks.
“If you have a family of four or five, it’s going to add up to thousands of dollars, and I just can’t imagine anyone having that amount of money stored in a shoebox — so someone will come up with a lending scheme that will be close to usury,” said Robert Moser, deputy director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of San Diego.
About half of Hispanic immigrants have no checking or savings accounts, and those who have credit cards often pay exorbitant fees and have difficulty managing their debt, according to a study co-authored by Ibarra.