Robert Franklin, owner of Budget Transmission Masters in Albuquerque, N.M., employs a dozen people and is an active member of the community. In 1999, he took out a $300,000 home mortgage – a feat that could become impossible under legislation introduced this year, because Franklin is a non-resident immigrant.

“Make no mistake, there are hundreds of thousands of people like me all across America, and they’ve all got mortgages,” says Franklin. In addition to owning his home, Franklin owns the 14,000-square-foot building where his business is located. Franklin is in this country legally and has never missed a mortgage payment, he says.

Immigration is currently one of the hottest issues facing the nation, with President Bush addressing the issue in a speech from the Oval Office Monday night. The Senate recently resumed debate on legislation addressing Bush’s goal of creating a guest worker program.

In February, Rep. Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, a member of Iowa’s state legislature, introduced a bill prohibiting mortgage loans to borrowers who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents under federal law.

The law passed the House, but not the Senate, and Dix – who is now running for Congress – “will work with Iowa legislators to try to reconsider that legislation next session,” according to Matt Gronewald, campaign manager for Dix’s Congressional campaign.

On the national front, a bill, H.R. 2043, that would, among other things, amend the Truth in Lending Act to prohibit residential mortgages for so-called “illegal aliens,” is under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It’s interesting,” said Franklin, who bought his first house in the United States 13 years ago, putting $30,000 down on a fully assumable, nonqualifying, $170,000 mortgage. “He (Dix) is an official in Iowa. We run New Mexico’s biggest automotive transmission repair center.

“One of our biggest suppliers is Precision Torque Converters in Hampton, Iowa. I have probably spent half a million dollars on their products in the last few years. They don’t understand the bigger picture of…my little business in its own way is benefiting people in his state,” Franklin said.

Franklin, his wife Patricia and their then-infant son Matt came to the United States from England 13 years ago. “We arrived with six suitcases,” Franklin said. They bought Budget Transmission Masters shortly after they came to the U.S. They bought their first home eight months after they arrived, sold it after six years and built the home they now own.

“The home today is worth close to half a million dollars and our mortgage is $182,000,” Franklin said. “We make mortgage payments regularly and never miss a payment. It’s all about being responsible.”

In February, Paul Egan, director of government relations for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Inman News he had no problem with mortgage loans to immigrants with green cards.

However, loans to those without permanent residency status are another matter, he said.

“I can tell you as a matter of principle it’s not a good idea to make mortgage money available to individuals who can be deported at any time,” said Egan. “Who would be holding the bag if the federal government did enforce the laws against illegal immigration? It would approach the enormity of the savings and loan collapse of the 1980s.”

Egan said a number of states, including Illinois, have programs making mortgage loans available to immigrants who do not have lawful permanent residency status. “You have to understand we have a resident population of aliens that ranges between 11 and 13 million,” the government relations director said.

“Jobs are the number one attraction, but there are also a number of incentives for coming to this country illegally. Making mortgages available to these people is a very powerful incentive to people from poorer countries,” Egan said.

Franklin and his family are in the U.S. legally, on an E2 treaty trader visa. This is a reciprocal agreement the U.S. has with “the vast majority of countries in the world,” according to Franklin. It enables people who are nationals of other countries to come to the U.S. and purchase and run a business, subject to the criteria that the business be profitable and the employees American.

In addition to the mortgage on their home, the Franklins, who both work in the business, have a mortgage on Budget Transmission Masters’ building. “We got a 15-year mortgage on this property. We’re now about halfway through the term,” Franklin said.

Like every other business in Albuquerque, Budget Transmission Masters pays gross receipts tax of 6.75 percent. According to Franklin, “Every month we send $6,000 to $8,000 to the city.”

Franklin is vice president of Nor Este Homeowners Association, an organization of homeowners in a housing development adjacent to his family’s home. He has been involved with the Boy Scouts and his business supports the local technical vocational institute.

Asked if he would like to become a U.S. citizen, Franklin answers quickly. “I would be the first in line tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, there is no opportunity. You can’t go to the INS, there is no avenue whatsoever for us to change our status.”

According to Franklin, there are a number of British immigrants in the United States, many of whom have E2 visas and settle in Florida with small businesses. “The people have an entrepreneurial spirit, similar to ourselves. We have sought a better life and felt coming to America offered a better opportunity.”

Franklin says, “We know being a foreigner makes it all the more important to take the responsibility for paying your bills, paying your mortgage. If you didn’t, you have more to lose than your property. You could be kicked out of the country. I think when mortgage companies make loans to people, they are clever enough to protect themselves pretty well.”


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