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"Any business that is not wrapping their arms around the facts in this valley is missing the boat," Regimbal says. By "facts," he means Hispanic immigrants. "These folks are here. They pay their bills. They're not going away."
In the years since 9/11, and even more so following the mortgage crash, many financial institutions have effectively made it harder for illegal immigrants to get loans and accounts by requiring a valid Social Security number. The USA Patriot Act required banks to more stringently verify a customer's identity in order to prevent money-laundering by potential terrorists.
The Patriot Act, though, doesn't specifically require customers to prove their legal status, allowing them to authenticate their identity with what the Internal Revenue Service calls an "individual taxpayer identification number," which one can obtain without a Social Security number. That suffices for the Catholic Credit Union. Regimbal says it's simply not his company's job to delve into immigration matters.
Hernandez says that's another reason the credit union is popular among the Hispanic community. Even so, he says, the rule-tightening in the industry overall is partly to blame for the significant drop-off in business he has seen over the past couple of years. Whereas he once handled approximately 10 transactions a month, he now does about half that.
One of his clients, Jesse Anguiano, just bought a $275,000, 3,500-square-foot house on a 1.7-acre plot on the outskirts of Wapato. Anguiano's father was a Mexican farm worker who brought him here illegally as a child. Later, Anguiano says, the family received amnesty. Now a citizen, he works as the operations manager of a logging company on the Yakama Reservation.
He bought his first house in the city of Yakima nine years ago, but longed for the country. Gesturing on a recent day to the orchards and open fields that surround his new house, he says he loves the place for "the view and the space," and the chance to get his kids (three of them, with one more on the way) away from the TV. He's built a chicken coop behind the house, is thinking about buying horses, and is scoping out the best place to build a fire pit for making s'mores.
Only a few miles away from this bucolic scene, in Anguiano's former home of Yakima, the debate over illegal immigration is still roiling the citizenry. With a population of 84,000—67 percent white, 37 percent Latino, according to the latest census estimate—Yakima is the region's major metropolis, and there's widespread resentment between the two communities. Just as in Arizona, whites blame Hispanics for a crime problem: Gang violence claimed 25 lives in the valley during just the first half of this year. And Hispanics accuse whites of bigotry.
Gutierrez, of Rural Community Development Resources, says she originally called her Yakima-based organization the Washington Association of Minority Entrepreneurs, but changed that about five years later to the more innocuous name.
On May 1, a day when pro-immigrant marches took place across the country, 3,000 people gathered in Yakima, galvanized by anger over Arizona's new immigration law. Gempler of the Growers League marched with them. Like many in the farm lobby nationally, he has long supported so-called "comprehensive" immigration reform, including the "path to citizenship" proposed by Obama.
Yakima police chief Samuel Granato, the grandchild of Mexican immigrants, spoke to the crowd—in Spanish. The chief, who described himself to Seattle Weekly as "just to the left of Attila the Hun" on most issues, announced to those assembled that he didn't support the Arizona law, in part because he needs the help of all immigrants, legal or illegal, to fight crime. "I don't need you to be afraid that local police are going to arrest you," is how he put it.