February 16, 2007

Credit Card Is the Real ID in America

By Diego Ramirez
New America Media

Editor’s Note: This past week news was made of Bank of America offering credit cards to those without Social Security numbers, undocumented immigrants. Today we present one man’s perspective, Diego Ramirez (not his real name) on what a credit card means to him and his family.

As an undocumented immigrant in this country, I am denied a lot of the things that come easily to other people. A driver’s license, or the opportunity to obtain a proper job, is out of my reach. But the one thing that I am allowed might be the most powerful, and it’s made of plastic.

Being undocumented has put many limitations on people in my situation, but having good credit can magically lift that “undocumented” label from you. For instance, when I go to open a new wireless phone service, the person helping me usually overlooks the fact that I handed them a “Matrícula Consular” ID card. This ID card, issued by the Mexican Consulate located in the United Sates, is almost like handing them a card stating that I am not a legal resident of this country.

But the reason they overlook this is because of my strong credit. I was approved to open up four lines of credit without a deposit, which, considering my situation, is a good thing. I am 22. A lot of young people around my age, citizens included, would not have the same privilege. In America, the statement “money talks” applies to us all. And plastic money can speak louder than even a proper ID card.

I knew that, being undocumented, I would need to find a way to get myself out of that economic handicap. At the age of 13 my uncle taught me the importance of maintaining a good credit record. He would lend me books that would give tips and a breakdown of how credit works. He told me that we might not have voting power, but the one thing that we as immigrants have is a drive to work hard. That drive, my uncle said, can lead to money, and, “money in this country can move mountains.”

The way that I started building up my credit was by opening up a bank account at sixteen and saving. Even though I’ve worked mainly entry-level jobs, I always made it a point to keep good credit. I had built up trust with my bank and so I was able to get my first credit card at 18. I used my Matrícula Consular ID card, and since I had been with my bank for a few years, it was not difficult to get my credit card.

I even got a good interest rate on it. Since I am undocumented, good credit is like a golden key that can open up many doors. I was able to buy a computer, pay my college tuition and keep up with the new technological trends. It’s all part of keeping up with people around me who are citizens or “legal” residents. I’ve done all this through the use of credit.

And it’s not just me. I have met many undocumented families who have been able to send their children to college, and own homes, all thanks to good credit. The golden rule of credit is: use it wisely and only as much as you can pay back. Simple enough, but it’s extremely hard to grasp for some people. Having financial power can be like no other power, and with the potential $40.8 billion that the total immigrant community (including the undocumented) can bring to the consumer market, it is safe to say that the economic voice of immigrants is going to be heard loud and clear, regardless of their status.

But as undocumented immigrants, we do face risks others do not have to face. My mother’s friend, Rosa, who lives in the apartment complex next to us, had to take over her cousin’s house and car payments when her cousin was deported back to Mexico four months ago. Her cousin risked losing everything that she worked so hard for. Rosa had no other choice than to sell most of the belongings in her cousin’s home, and money is running out.

It will be interesting to see if our buying power can influence and help us out politically. I sincerely hope that politicians will find a way to “legalize” us, but until then, the credit card is our ticket into the America we’ve all dreamed about.

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