EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Mexican consulates are doing their part to reduce the unbanked population in the United States, which has been coming down dramatically in the past few years.

The consulates in El Paso and other U.S. cities next week will be sponsoring online seminars and inviting bank executives, Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration officials to educate Mexican immigrants on the basics of obtaining documents needed to open bank accounts.

“One of the benefits of having an account is getting credit to buy cars and property in the United States, having your money safe and sending money to (relatives) in Mexico,” said Adriana Martinez, consul for community services in El Paso.

The Federal Depositors Insurance Corporation says an estimated 5.4 percent of households in the United States were unbanked in 2019, meaning no one in the home had a savings or checking account. That’s down from 8.2 percent in 2011 and 7 percent in 2015. Hispanics and African Americans, though, have much higher rates at 12.2 percent and 13.8 percent, respectively.

According to the FDIC, half of the adults who don’t have a bank account say they lack enough money to meet banks’ minimum deposits, which can be as low as $100. Others don’t trust banks or want to avoid paying monthly fees but many, up to one in five, may lack legal identification.

The consulate says a growing number of banks is accepting a combination of a valid foreign passport and the U.S. Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to establish bank accounts for foreign nationals.

“The ITIN can be useful for those who don’t have a Social Security number. The (ITIN) does not allow them to work, but they can use it for a business or to file income taxes” in the United States, Martinez said. “They can also prove they are complying with (U.S.) tax laws, build a history if they have the opportunity to get residence or regularize their situation in the United States.”

President Joe Biden in January sent to Congress the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would give temporary legal status and the ability to apply for permanent legal residents to undocumented individuals who pass criminal background checks and pay taxes. The bill, sponsored by Democratic lawmakers from New Jersey and California, remains pending in Congress.

The American Immigration Council says 4.4 million people residing in the United States filed income taxes using an ITIN instead of a Social Security number in 2015, paying an estimated $23.6 billion in total taxes.

Immigrant entrepreneurs encouraged

The El Paso consulate also wants to make it easy for Mexican citizens in the U.S. to open their own businesses and also bank accounts in Mexico.

One of the online forums in the Financial Literacy Week (June 14 to June 21) program is on how to incorporate in Texas and open a business online. A representative from Google will teach online viewers how to use the company’s platforms to buy and sell products on the web and market them.

New American Economy in 2019 reported 3.2 million immigrant entrepreneurs employed more than 8 million people in the United States.

The consulate is also pitching opening bank accounts in Mexico using documents like the Mexican passport and the consular registry card (matricula) at the state-owned Banco del Bienestar (Wellness Bank).

The new social development financial cooperative is one of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s flagship programs and he hopes to have 1,000 branches in operation by late this summer.

“It is a safe place to send money to their relatives,” Martinez said. Mexicans living in the El Paso area can open such an account through the consulate and get a Bienestar bank card.

For a full schedule of Financial Literacy Week online events, visit the consulate’s web page.

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