Promoting Financial Security and Economic Opportunity for Immigrants in California

Documented and undocumented immigrants, despite having a strong desire to build family and community wealth, face unique barriers to financial security and economic opportunity. These obstacles include discrimination by banks and a lack of access to loans for small businesses, affordable housing and home ownership options, and access to safety-net programs. Immigrants also face unique financial challenges because of their status, such as higher levels of wage theft and fears of what will happen to their assets if they are deported.

Immediately following the 2016 election, CRC heard concerns from our members about their immigrant clients’ fears resulting from the hostile anti-immigrant political environment under the new Trump administration. CRC surveyed our members to better understand the issue.

CRC’s Here to Stay campaign emerged from our initial research. Here to Stay engages immigrant leaders to advocate for legislative and corporate reforms that promote economic equity, community wealth-building, and financial security for immigrants in California. Our goal is to engage immigrant families in advocacy and connect them to resources they need to overcome financial insecurities.

Barriers to financial products and services

Most immigrant consumers distrust traditional banks because they feel unwelcome, and regularly face discrimination by banks. Similarly, many immigrant families want to build assets, but do not have access to safe, affordable financial resources. Banks should invest in ensuring the financial well-being of immigrant small business owners by increasing their access to credit, loans, and safe banking options. For immigrants in less densely populated areas, accessing financial resources such as local bank branches, public benefits, and legal resources can be challenging for those who do not have cars or easy access to transportation.

Economic insecurity and barriers to wealth-building resources

One of the most pressing issues for immigrant families in the Bay Area is the lack of affordable rental housing. For immigrant respondents with little or no credit histories, it is difficult to rent an apartment or apply for a mortgage, especially when they do not have a cosigner. Undocumented families do not qualify to receive safety-net programs and public benefits, such as the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC). Undocumented immigrant seniors do not qualify for social security benefits and have limited options to save for retirement.  

Exploitative practices due to citizenship status

Documented and undocumented immigrants worry about what will happen to their assets if the government deports them. Although immigrants work hard to build assets for their families and are successful savers, they are not sure how to protect their assets in the case of an unexpected ICE raid. Many immigrant workers also face wage theft and abusive working conditions due to their legal status, which only adds to the challenges that they face to achieve healthy lives. Trying to navigate the U.S. immigration system is very complex, and the lack of safe, accessible legal services in some communities makes it even more difficult. The federal administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposed changes related to the public charge rule will only further harm immigrants.

Policy Recommendations

CRC’s Here to Stay campaign coalition suggests that the following should be priorities for public policies and corporate practices to increase immigrant financial security and economic opportunity.

  1. Push for safe banking and equitable access to small business lending, mortgages, accessible retirement systems, and public benefits for ITIN holders.
  2. Work collectively with housing partners to promote affordable housing and homeownership for immigrant families along with identifying opportunities to mitigate displacement in the Bay Area.
  3. Promote access to safe and affordable banking accounts for immigrant youth.
  4. Advocate for corporate policies and investments that address financial barriers to long-term asset building in immigrant communities, such as increased access to small business ownership and home ownership.  
  5. Support allies on initiatives that address abusive work conditions, wage theft, and lack of work benefits.

Immigrants overwhelmingly want to achieve their American Dream; they see entrepreneurship and homeownership as opportunities to build family wealth and achieve economic empowerment. Policymakers must prioritize the needs of immigrants by introducing legislation that promotes financial security for immigrants and creates greater economic opportunity.

Here to Stay Campaign Members

A-1 Community Housing Services ▪ Anew America ▪ Beneficial State Foundation ▪ California Asset Builders Coalition ▪ California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity ▪ CARECEN SF ▪ Chinese for Affirmative Action ▪ Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto ▪ Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco ▪ EARN ▪ East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation ▪ Housing and Equal Rights Advocates ▪ La Colectiva ▪ La Raza Community Resource Center ▪ La Raza Centro Legal ▪ Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area ▪ Mission Economic Development Agency ▪ Mission Asset Fund ▪ MyPath ▪ National CAPACD ▪ Opportunity Fund ▪ Prospera ▪ Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center ▪ Richmond Neighborhood Housing Inc. ▪ Sacred Heart Community Service ▪ Self-Help Federal Credit Union ▪ SF Living Wage Coalition ▪ Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation ▪ SparkPoint Contra Costa ▪ Tahirih Justice Center ▪ The Latina Center ▪ The Unity Council ▪ United Ways of California