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Lawsuit accuses Wells Fargo of denying student loans to young immigrants

Jan 30, 2017 / Media Coverage / Baltimore Sun — Associated Press

A lawsuit filed Monday accuses banking giant Wells Fargo of illegally denying student loans to young immigrants who are protected from deportation and allowed to work and study in the U.S. under a program created by former President Obama.

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The young immigrants are in the country illegally but have Social Security numbers and documents that meet bank requirements for identification, but Wells Fargo refuses to give them loans based on their citizenship status, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California by the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The loans, meanwhile, are available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the suit says.

It seeks a court order declaring the policy discriminatory and forcing Wells Fargo to grant the loans to those participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It also seeks unspecified monetary damages.

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The lawsuit comes amid concern among immigrant groups that President Trump will cancel the DACA program as part of a broader effort to control immigration. Trump has signed executive actions over the last week to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, temporarily ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspend the United States' entire refugee program.

“It's very important in our view to establish that there are clear rules against this kind of discrimination, particularly in a time like this,” said Tom Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Obama created DACA by executive order in 2012, providing temporary protection for immigrants brought to the United States by their parents before the age of 16 and who live in the country illegally.

Under the program, recipients receive a Social Security number, allowing them to work, pay taxes, study and travel for a two-year period. More than 750,000 immigrants had been approved for DACA as of December 2016, federal officials say.

Mitzie Perez, one of those immigrants and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, came to the U.S. illegally in 1997 from Guatemala at age 5. Now 25, Perez is a junior at UC Riverside, where she is focusing on gender and sexuality studies.

She applied for a student loan from Wells Fargo last year to help cover the costs of her education but was not able to proceed with the online loan application after she disclosed she was not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, according to the lawsuit. She said she works and has used credit cards to cover her tuition.

“Every day I consider not completing my education because I don't have the means,” she said.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other DACA recipients who have been denied loans by Wells Fargo. Saenz said it was too early to know how many people might qualify. 

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