I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Immigrants weathering financial storm
Affordable housing and financial literacy are always issues for undocumented immigrants who may not speak English fluently and may be suspicious of the federal government. But contrary to what you might think, the mortgage collapse has not driven the state’s immigrant community into mass foreclosure and bankruptcy, according to Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a Santa Fe-based immigrants-rights organization.
“There are a lot of undocumented immigrants, especially in the south side of Santa Fe, who are having a hard time paying for their mobile homes because they did get higher-interest subprime loans,” she said. She then cited several factors that make New Mexico a relatively safe place for immigrants without the proper paperwork.
For one thing, she said, the state tends to take a “more sensible and humane approach” to immigration policy. This is in part because the immigrants comprise a small and close-knit community that shares a common culture with the general population. According to statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center, New Mexico’s undocumented immigration population ranks 28th in the nation, behind California, Illinois, Iowa and Texas among others.
“New Mexico is a majority Latino state,” Diaz said. “We already have something in common.”
Immigrants who come to New Mexico do so to join established families, Diaz said. Unlike other communities where they may seem like an unwelcome and off-putting invasion, in New Mexico immigrants are likely to be accepted because they are relatives.
Also bolstering the immigrant community is that overall the state has seen less of an impact from the economic crisis.
As reported earlier, New Mexico is a good place to ride out a recession.
“All of the states around us — like Colorado, Arizona and Nevada — are in declining housing markets, but not us,” said Erik Nore, director of homeownership for the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. “It’s not a bad time to own a house here.”
Nore credited the New Mexico Home Loan Protection Act, passed in 2003, with creating a buffer. The act defines what a high-cost loan is and sets a threshold for mortgage rates, he said.
“We really dodged a bullet,” he added, noting that the act passed before the mortgage crisis hit.
Furthermore, undocumented immigrants who pay taxes and have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) are able to legally open checking and savings accounts, start lines of credit and apply for home and car loans. Nationally, both Bank of America and Wells Fargo began offering banking services to individuals with a picture I.D. from the Mexican consulate and ITINs several years ago.
Guadalupe Credit Union in Santa Fe fills a niche in the community with a 100 percent bilingual branch. Members of its staff teach a financial literacy course to English as a Second Language (ESL) students at Santa Fe Community College and the credit union has other outreach programs that benefit under-served members of the community, including many immigrants.
Winona Nava, CEO of Guadalupe Credit Union, said she had one member voice concerns about the credit union offering ITIN loans to illegal immigrants.
“Santa Fe is a pretty inclusive community and no one is judging any of the members,” she said.
“It’s not like we had members closing their accounts because of it,” she added.
And Alejandra Seluja, a senior loan officer at Guadalupe Credit Union, noted that undocumented immigrants may be more likely to open banking and credit union accounts during times of economic and political uncertainty.
“If they kept their money at home and someone were to break into their home, or if they had to leave the country, they would lose it,” she said. “But if it’s in a credit union, they know it’s insured and they can access it.”
Giving these immigrants access to checking and savings accounts and offering them ITIN loans remains controversial, particularly during an election season marked by occasional anti-immigrant erruptions. But such pro-immigrant policies are not illegal.