I am one of tens of thousands of Somalis who came to the United States seeking safety and security. I came here in 1995, almost 20 years ago, and now I live in Renton, Washington. America has more than fulfilled its promise to us – and we Somali-Americans have fulfilled our promise to our adopted country.
We are Americans. We care deeply for our country and have invested in its future. We also care about our relatives who stayed behind in Somalia – our parents, children, nieces, nephews, brothers, and sisters. For as long as we have lived here in America, we have scraped together whatever we can to send to our loved ones, who depend on us for their survival.
But now, because of Treasury Department regulations, banks are shutting down the accounts of the only companies that send money to Somalia. The main bank that is working with these companies says that it must cut them off next month because of pressure from the Treasury Department. Soon, these companies will go out of business.
We are writing to demand that the Treasury Department change its tune and ensure that we continue to have a safe, legal, and transparent way to send money to our loved ones in Somalia.
An estimated 40% of Somalia’s population relies on money sent from people abroad, like us. The money we send is more than Somalia receives in aid, and it goes directly to our families. Our families don’t want to rely on foreign aid. They'd rather not rely on us either, but - for now - they need our help. We’re all committed to building a country that can stand on its own two feet. We want a strong government, a strong economy, and a strong banking system in Somalia. But until we build them, we must find a way to keep this lifeline open for our families.
For me, I don’t send money back to Somalia because I’m rich. When my nephew called yesterday to ask for money, I said yes, because he and his children need it – and then I started to think about how I would find the money. Probably I won’t pay my electric bill this month, or I’ll have to make some other adjustment to my bills. My credit will suffer, but it doesn’t matter. My family needs me. I know it’s the same for so many others. Sometimes, my friend who works with me cries when he thinks of his family. If he doesn't send his $300 every month, they won’t survive. It’s the young and the elderly we worry about most.
If you see someone sending $1,000,000, or $10,000, of course, you should ask questions. Even when I’m sending a few hundred dollars, the money transfer companies always ask for my ID and detailed information about who it’s going to. From what I understand, the Treasury Department thinks these companies are going about this the right way – so why are they standing idly by as their rules force banks to cut our family ties?
Let our language be clear: If the money transfer companies shut down under pressure from the Treasury Department, we won’t be complacent. For our families, this is survival. People may pack money into suitcases and take it over on planes. They’ll do everything they can to find a way to keep their families and their communities alive. They know people might steal the money, but they’ll have no other choice. Still, no matter how hard they try, if the money transfer companies close, much of our money won’t get through. It will be too little, too late, for too many of our loved ones.
The Treasury Department says they can’t help – but they can. They can change their approach to banks that deal with Somali-American money transfer companies in any number of ways. They can make the regulations more clear, they can make exceptions, they can create new incentives. The Treasury Department created this problem, and now they must fix it. We are Americans and we can do better.
Please stand with me and call on the Treasury Department to keep our lifeline open!