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Wells Fargo Hit With Bias Suit Over DACA Immigrant Loans

Jan 30, 2017 / Media Coverage / Law360 — Bonnie Eslinger

Wells Fargo NA refuses to grant loans to those currently protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, in violation of anti-discrimination laws, according to federal putative class action filed Monday by a University of California, Riverside, student.

The suit filed Monday in California federal court by plaintiff Mitzie Perez, a third-year undergraduate student from Guatemala, and the California League of United Latin American Citizens states that Perez has authorization to work in the U.S. under the Obama administration program for individuals brought into the country illegally as children. In August, she sought a student loan through the Wells Fargo website to help pay for college and debt related to her studies and was denied after stating she was neither a U.S. citizen nor a permanent resident.

After she tried again and changed the response to the question about citizenship to “I am a permanent resident alien,” she received information about a student loan option, the complaint states. She was also told that “based on the citizenship status” provided, she would need a U.S. citizen co-signer for her application and loan.

“Ms. Perez was thus denied a student loan due to her citizenship status,” the suit states. “Had Ms. Perez been allowed to apply for a loan, she would have had a co-signer available to meet Wells Fargo’s cosigner requirement.”

The bank’s refusal to offer Perez and other DACA recipients an opportunity to contract for private loans “because of its arbitrary citizenship requirements” is a violation of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1866, along with California's civil rights and unfair competition laws, the suit states.

The proposed class includes all individuals within the U.S. since 2014 “who were were denied the right to contract for a loan or other financial product” by Wells Fargo because they were not U.S. citizens, despite having the proof of identification the federal government requires banks to obtain and verify from its customers.

The complaint states it is also brought on behalf of the California League of United Latin American Citizens because Wells Fargo’s “policy of denying loans to DACA recipients” affects the group’s members and impedes its ability to carry out its mission to “advance the educational attainment and civil rights of the Latino population in California.”

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Ossai Miazad of Outten & Golden, told Law360 that “a lender cannot use citizenship status as a litmus test for outright denying individuals who otherwise meet valid criteria for a loan.”

The suit is seeking a declaratory judgment that Wells Fargo’s practices are unlawful, an injunction to stop the bank from the alleged lending discrimination, attorneys' fees and damages, including “damages for emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and anguish.”

“All students should be treated equally in accessing the loan assistance needed to complete a university education,” said another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
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The DACA program allows young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the U.S. and obtain work visas for two years with the possibility of renewal. As of March 2016, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved over 1.3 million initial and renewal requests for DACA, according to the complaint.
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The plaintiffs are represented by Ossai Miazad, Jahan C. Sagafi and Katrina Eiland of Outten & Golden LLP and Thomas Saenz and Victor Viramontes of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
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The case is Mitzie Perez et al v. Wells Fargo & Co. et al, number 3:17-cv-00454, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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