Speed Reads


The costs of illegal immigration are rising, thanks to U.S. bank regulators

Republicans complain, convincingly or not, that the Obama administration isn't doing enough to control the northward flow of undocumented immigrants. But regardless of what La Migra is doing, U.S. federal banking regulators are making immigration less attractive and more costly, reports Michael Corkery in The New York Times.

Most immigrants who make the arduous journey to cross the U.S. border illegally don't do it for fun or to binge-watch reality TV — they do it for the money. In the U.S., even a day laborer or hotel cleaner can usually earn enough to buy a car, refrigerator, and other consumer goods, and often more importantly, send money back home to support the family. Immigrants, in the U.S. legally and not, send billions of dollars — $51.1 billion in 2012 — back to their home countries, with almost half of those remittances flowing down to Mexico.

As bank regulators crack down on money transfers abroad to fight money laundering, many banks are responding by getting out of the money-transfer business. Prices are expected to rise, increasing costs for immigrants and decreasing the amount that reaches their families. Corkery explains:

Regulators say the banking system was being exploited by terrorists and drug lords seeking to launder money. While they have not banned banks from engaging in higher-risk businesses like money transfers to certain countries, they acknowledge that banks must now invest significantly more to monitor the money moving through their systems or face substantial penalties.... Even with the current relatively low remittance fees, the costs can still add up. Some Latin American immigrants say they regularly send three remittances a week to pay for last-minute school supplies or rent. [New York Times]

This trend will hurt the immigrants more than the banks, of course. It's not clear how much it's harming terrorists and narcotraffickers.