Late on a Saturday afternoon during the summer of 2011 there came a knock at the Banks’ rear doors. Suddenly came a yell from the employee sent to check on the door, “it’s Senator Gil Cedillo!”
Senator Cedillo entered the bank, greeted the staff, and asked CEO Jesse Torres for a few moments of his time. During a three-hour “moment” Senator Cedillo enlightened Mr. Torres about the tremendous need to assist the 8.5 million lawful permanent residents (“LPRs”) (e.g. green card holders) in the United States eligible for naturalization. Senator Cedillo estimated that of the 2.5 million LPRs in California, at least one third likely resided in the greater Los Angeles community.
Given that the Bank’s mission to empower and transform local Latino communities, the Bank evaluated its ability to offer a citizenship microloan program. Through the fall of 2011 the Bank developed the program. It also formed strategic alliances with nonprofits and attorneys serving LPRs. Finally, after some test runs, in the spring of 2012, the Bank rolled out the program.
The socio-economic needs of Pan American Bank’s service area (east Los Angeles) makes encouragement of citizenship an important issue among eligible residents. It is a matter of social and economic justice. A Pew Hispanic Center study (“The Path Not Taken”) found that roughly one-third of eligible lawful permanent residents do not apply for naturalization due to a lack of funds. Other studies have found that naturalization provides for significant economic benefits versus remaining legal permanent residents.
Pan American Bank was determined to ensure that qualified lawful permanent residents are provided with the opportunity to apply for naturalization in order to fully participate in the civic process, allowing them to have a voice. Along the way Pan American Bank is able to improve local communities.