A Latino legal and civil rights organization is suing one of the nation's biggest lenders, alleging it denied loans to qualified applicants based on their immigration status.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the law firm Outten & Golden LLP filed the federal lawsuit against Wells Fargo.
In a press release announcing the lawsuit, MALDEF cited the case of Mitzie Perez, a third-year student at the University of California, Riverside. Perez successfully applied to the Obama administration's DACA program, which has allowed young immigrants without legal status who were brought here as young children to lawfully study and work in the U.S. Under the program, which was renewable every two years, Perez had obtained a Social Security number.
Perez applied for a student loan; she answered on the application that she wasn't a citizen or permanent resident and was denied. She then changed her response to "permanent resident alien" and was told she would need a co-signer for the loan.
Ossai Miazad, of Outten & Golden said in a statement that denying individuals the right to contract for a loan "based on alienage is discriminatory under California and federal law.”
In a statement, Wells Fargo said it was "disappointed" that MALDEF and the California League of United Latino Citizens had filed suit "rather than work with us on solutions to help people realize their goals of higher education." The company stated it remains "focused on our responsible lending practices to assist temporary and permanent residents and U.S. citizens in obtaining student financing."
DACA students are not eligible for federal financial aid, though they may be eligible for state or college aid, or private scholarships. The suit states there is no federal or state law or regulation that restricts banks from providing financial products to customers because they are not citizens, though under federal law, it is one factor that can be used to verify a person's identity.