Money couldn't buy the publicity that the Bank of America has received in recent days. Not money alone, because money isn't inherently bad but sometimes people do the wrong thing to get it.
Sure, cold hard cash is at the root of the B of A's decision to market credit cards to illegal aliens -- a decision that has ignited a firestorm of criticism across the country, and the type of publicity that any business would rather avoid -- but why would a financial institution take up this type of dubious, dangerous business?
Because it can. And because the Washington bureaucracy has encouraged it. In fact, this sorry episode serves as an object lesson in bureaucratic tyranny. In this case, "tyranny of the Treasury."
Amidst the alphabet soup of acronyms that originate in Washington is this four-letter concoction: ITIN. It stands for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, and was instituted by regulation from the Treasury Department. Not by an executive order, not by legislation, but by bureaucratic design.
In July, 1996 Treasury instituted the ITIN for individuals who owe taxes but are not eligible for a Social Security number. Ostensibly, it was intended to be used by foreign investors who must pay U.S. taxes. Instead, illegals rather than investors have come to embrace the ITIN. Initially, all they had to do was ask for an ITIN; now, they can apply for one only when filing a tax return.
Why would people who initially avoid any contact with the federal government, thrive by avoiding federal detection, then suddenly sign up with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), one of Uncle Sam's most feared agencies, and willingly file U.S. tax returns?
Because a tax form offers many happy "returns" for an illegal. With a tax return, illegals have discovered that banks and other financial institutions will offer them home loans and other services -- like credit cards.
So the Bank of America's promotional campaign is only the most recent effort to put credit cards into the hands of illegals…and the most blatant.
Even as our nation fights a war against an enemy which will use every tool as its disposal, including fraud and identity theft, Washington chooses to ignore the chance that real live terrorists might open a line of credit just as easily as illegals who come here from Mexico.
This is a dangerous form of denial, and it has poisoned a bureaucracy that focuses more on April 15 than it does on September 11.
Here is what IRS commissioner Mark Everson told the Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee in March of 2004:
We are fully sensitive to the possible dangers that can arise from the misuse if ITINs for the purpose of creating an identity, including the possible threat to national security [emphasis added]. Regardless of undesirable behaviors actually or potentially associated with the ITINs, the [Internal Revenue] Service remains legally responsible for enforcement of the nations federal tax laws with respect to ITIN holders, including the responsibility to assess and impose tax in ITIN holders irrespective of the circumstances of their employment or the possibility that ITIN applicants may be solely or collaterally seeking the procurement of an ITIN to establish identity for non-tax purposes.
Only a little translation from “bureaucratese” is needed: simply stated, the IRS commissioner is saying, “National Security is not my job.”
Everson was even more candid in another oversight subcommittee hearing just last year, when he stated that his agency concentrates on revenue -- not the ways in which that revenue was earned. It led one committee member to cynically speculate that the IRS would welcome the imposition of a federal tax on bank robbery -- making the crime an afterthought so long as the feds got their hands on a sizable chunk of change.
With a President once again reluctant to move aggressively, and a Congress very much accustomed proceeding at a glacial pace, the American people seek their own remedy. Across the nation, Bank of America credit cards are being shredded, and accounts are being closed.
The impact of market forces can cut both ways, and could serve to teach the Bank of America a lesson about the nation for which it is named. It will be a very expensive lesson. If it is a lesson unheeded by the Treasury Department, then far greater costs await our nation and our people.