Bank of America has reportedly frozen the accounts of Saeed Moshfegh, an Iranian student getting his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Miami, who has been in the country for more than a decade.
To maintain the accounts, all he had to do was show proof of legal residency every six months, however, earlier this month, that all changed.
“I think it’s onerous, but I’d been doing it,” said Moshfegh, who has lived in Florida for the past seven years.
Earlier this month, Moshfegh went to his local branch in the South Miami district. He was instructed that the documentation this time could not be accepted. Bank officials insisted he produce different paperwork, according to Moshfegh.
Due to his current student status, he maintains the documentation he supplied was correct.
“This bank doesn’t know how the immigration system works, so they didn’t accept my document,” said Moshfegh.
Locked out of his account, Moshfegh could not pay his rent, living expenses, along with his credit cards were suddenly rejected. It was like he was removed from the system.
In recent months, Bank of America has been on a terrorizing spree freezing customers’ accounts after asking about their legal status in the US. Last month, The Washington Post reported that a Kansas family had their assets frozen after Bank of America questioned their citizenship.
Josh Collins and Jessica Salazar Collins, whose accounts were frozen, said they received an unusual-looking letter from the bank asking about citizenship status.
After Collins’ incident was first reported locally, others in the region reported that Bank of America questioned their citizenship and had their accounts suspended for weeks, the Post said.
Tennessee native David Lewis received the same letter as Collins. Lewis told the Miami Herald he had maintained an account with Bank of America for about three decades. In the letter, the bank asked for his citizenship, income, and social security number.
Disgusted, Lewis called Bank of America, who told him his account would be frozen if the forms were not filled out and sent in. In other words, Bank of America held Lewis’ assets for ransom. That phone conversation led him to cancel his account, he said. “One would think a national bank would be careful about looking stupid after Wells Fargo,” he said, referring to the Wells Fargo meltdown after it as accused of creating millions of fake accounts.
According to Stephanie Collins, a spokesperson for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that supervises branch banking, US banks have not received any new instructions to collect more information about customers, nor the proof of citizenship to open an account.
The Miami Herald asked Bank of America spokesperson Carla Molina about the incidents. She said there had been no change in how the bank collects information from customers, including citizenship, since 2008. The bank attempts to contact customers before the status change of their bank accounts, she added.
Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, told the Herald she disagrees:
“We work with consumer groups and financial counselors in immigrant communities across [California] and the country,” she said in an email. “This is new. We have Bank of America customers who we’ve spoken to who have never been asked this before last year. If they have this asked of them before they can show us proof.”
In the last few months, her group has received numerous complaints about being asked for proof of citizenship; almost all have come from Bank of America customers, she said.
An article in American Banker magazine also highlighted Bank of America as the one institution specifically facing backlash for its policies.
Gonzalez said the bank’s scrutiny has sent fear in immigrant communities already feeling pressure from the Trump Administration’s crackdown on foreign-born residents.
“Fear is gripping these communities,” Gonzalez said. “It’s like walking into a grocery store to buy milk and being asked for your citizenship at checkout—banking is one of the core aspects of daily life in this country. To be faced with this question in order to do banking seems as un-American as you can get.”
Gonzalez recently launched a petition, “Tell Bank of America: Stand with immigrants,” that accuses the bank and the Trump administration of financial warfare, targeting immigrants by freezing their assets. The petition has received more than 61,600 signatures since August 30.