Roberto left his home in Michoacán, Mexico in 1993 and migrated to the Bay Area, hoping to find safety and greater economic opportunity. He found a job as a farmworker, got married and had two daughters. However, as an undocumented immigrant, Roberto has faced challenges in achieving economic security, unable to access safe financial products and services for him and his family.

The San Francisco Bay Area has welcomed 1.4 million immigrants over the years, about 40% of them undocumented. As a sanctuary city, San Francisco legally protects its undocumented immigrants but many barriers to economic security persist for immigrants and are more acute for those who are undocumented.

Access to formal financial services and products plays a significant role in economic stability and mobility, but can be inaccessible for immigrants, with many barriers from language to restrictive ID policies. Trust in institutions has also declined rapidly in the new federal climate and undocumented immigrants are retreating into the shadows to protect themselves and their families. This makes it more important now than ever for local governments, non-profits and the private sector to design financial programs, products and policies that are safe and inclusive for immigrant families.

Use of predatory financial services has put Roberto’s financial security and personal safety at risk. Until recently, he relied on check cashers to cash his paychecks, a service that came at a high price. Each check cashed meant a loss of $20 to $30 in income to meet his family’s needs. Carrying cash made him a target; he has been robbed twice. But recently Roberto was able to access financial counseling at the Mexican Consulate’s Ventanilla de Asesoría Financiera, a joint effort between the Consulate, Mission Asset Fund (MAF), and the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE), with support from Citi Community Development. With help from a MAF financial coach at the Ventanilla, Roberto learned how and where to open a safe, affordable bank account to deposit his paychecks and start building his credit.

Innovative programs like the Ventanilla ensure that everyone has access to financial services to keep their money safe and reduce reliance on wealth-stripping predatory practices. For the OFE, it is important that financial programs, products and services are inclusive with features that specifically meet the needs of our immigrant families.  For example, our Kindergarten to College program is designed as an opt-out custodial account, requiring no citizenship information or ID for student participation. Bank On San Francisco sets local standards for participating banks and credit unions that enable immigrants to open accounts with alternative IDs.

The OFE will continue to work with partners to address challenges faced by immigrants and feels urgency in prioritizing and meeting their financial needs so they feel financially safe and secure in our city.