From the Wall Street Journal:
Big Banks’ Loan Push: Illegal Immigrants
Mortgages Get Pitched To Underserved Market; Critics Find Some Risks
By ROBIN SIDEL
May 3, 2007; Page C1
The nation’s big banks, scrambling for customers, are pitching mortgages to illegal immigrants.
Two years ago, making home loans to people who are in the U.S. illegally was largely limited to community banks that wanted to revitalize neighborhoods by offering low-cost mortgages to local workers. There are signs that these loans, which comply with regulatory requirements and which represent a sliver of the nation’s $10 trillion mortgage market, are starting to take off in the broader banking industry.
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is developing a pilot program to pitch mortgages to illegal immigrants in Maricopa County, Ariz. If the bank proceeds, the plan could launch as soon as this summer. The New York bank joins Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Fifth Third Bancorp, which also are experimenting with the loans.
Genworth Financial Inc., meanwhile, is testing insurance products tied to the loans. Deutsche Bank AG has teamed up with the Hispanic National Mortgage Association to develop a secondary market where big banks can sell and trade the loans, potentially reducing risk with keeping the mortgages on their balance sheets.
“Whoever hits the street first with these loans will be the winner,” says Timothy Sandos, president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. The group says at least $85 billion of mortgages could be originated from 375,000 households occupied by undocumented renters, up from an estimated $44 billion from 216,000 households a few years ago.
Providing financial services to illegal immigrants is drawing criticism. Supporters say illegal immigrants contribute to the economy, often pay taxes and can help bring rundown communities back to life. Opponents contend that such lending can be risky because they know little about these borrowers’ ability to repay the loans.
J.P. Morgan’s pilot program, called “Building a Dream,” is generating dissension among some of the bank’s underwriters who are reluctant to handle the loans for fear that they violate federal law by encouraging illegal immigrants to stay in the country, said a person familiar with the situation.
In Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix, the sheriff, whose office has arrested hundreds of illegal immigrants, said banks providing these loans are taking on a risky proposition.
“If I catch these people, they are going back to Mexico and the banks will have a tough time collecting on their loans,” said Sheriff Joseph Arpaio.