Credit unions fill unmet needs for immigrants, asylum seekers

Several New York state credit unions are assisting immigrants and asylum seekers in New York City and around the state, offering much-needed financial services such as opening accounts and providing debit cards and small-dollar loans.  

Juntos Avanzamos-designated credit unions employ bilingual staff to promote cultural diversity in their financial institutions and accept alternative forms of identification, including the Matricula Consular and individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). Juntos Avanzamos, which translates to “together we advance,” is an initiative of Inclusiv, a New York Credit Union Association strategic partner.  

Juntos Avanzamos credit unions treat their members with dignity and respect, regardless of immigration status, keeping with the mission of providing affordable financial services that focus on the needs of Hispanic, immigrant consumers and asylum seekers.  

As of July 2023, Lower East Side Peoples Federal Credit Union has provided new immigrant assistance by opening over 1,000 accounts and assisting with 601 ITINs. Lower East Side Peoples FCU, in collaboration with Bronx Financial Access Coalition, also employs a rapid response vehicle that offers financial services that are not cash-related. The vehicle primarily serves the Bronx where the credit union is planning to expand to fill the void left by bank closures during COVID — in addition to Manhattan, Harlem and Staten Island, where they have branches.  

The credit union has also been working with Catholic Charities, which provided a $7,500 grant for migrants to open an account, at $100 per account. Learn more about Lower East Side Peoples FCU’s immigrant services here.  

“We want to help as many people as we can, but the major problem that the asylum seekers may have is that their documents may have been confiscated at the border or may not have anything the credit union can use,” said Aissatou Barry-Fall, Lower East Side Peoples FCU CEO.  

Barry-Fall hopes that New York City can set up a pop-up municipal ID site in coordination with the Juntos Avanzamos credit unions, which would allow her credit union to work with the city to streamline the process, and would allow for better coordination between state and local officials when the migrants are moved to different locations in the state.  

Pablo DeFilippi, executive VP of inclusiv, says that if they can understand where in the state the asylum seekers are being sent, they can help prepare credit unions outside of the city with the tools needed to service these members. “Because without access to something as simple as a debit card, our vulnerable populations will fall prey to scams and predatory actors,” he said.  

While a majority of Juntos Avanzamos credit unions do not operate outside of New York City, there are a few exceptions, including Cooperative Federal  in Syracuse, which opens accounts for immigrants without Social Security Numbers or ITINs.  

“We have been finding for many of our members who are recent Cuban entrants that their original passports are being held,” said Christina Sauve, Cooperative Federal CEO. “The original stays with Homeland Security, and they’re being given a copy. We’ve expanded our procedures to accept the I-94 immigration parole document and address documentation, along with that passport copy.”

Sauve agrees that if New York City can provide IDs, she expects that “it would go a long way toward supporting consistent experiences for people trying to open accounts.”  

Among additional services it offers, Greylock Federal Credit Union, which has branches in Berkshire County, Mass., and in Hudson, N.Y., will soon provide “citizenship” loans — small, unsecured loans that allow immigrants to borrow, save and build credit.  

“We are continuing to increase our lending programs, products and services, and we’ve come a long way working to find solutions to the financial challenges that immigrants and asylum seekers face,” said Cindy Shogry-Raimer, Greylock FCU VP of community development.  

The credit union, which has four Juntos Avanzamos-designated branches, has provided over 1,100 ITINs free of charge since 2019. Greylock also provides resources for obtaining licenses and other pertinent documents, coaching and clinics on building credit and financial wellness, and offers a host of translation resources, according to Shogry-Raimer.  

Additional Juntos Avanzamos-designated credit unions in New York state include:    

  • Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union;
  • Genesee Coop Federal Credit Union;
  • Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union;
  • Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union; and
  • U.S. Alliance Financial.

Credit unions that participate in shared branching services can also play a role. Anyone who opens an account at a Juntos Avanzamos-designated credit union that participates in shared branching can obtain financial services from any participating shared branching location in the state.

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