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Wells Fargo sued for discrimination by DACA migrant who was denied auto loan

Jul 16, 2019 / News Item / San Francisco Chronicle — Bob Egelko

Wells Fargo was hit with another claim of discrimination Tuesday when an immigrant who was denied an auto loan accused the troubled San Francisco bank of withholding credit from migrants who live and work legally in the United States under the DACA program.

In a lawsuit filed in San Francisco federal court, lawyers for the would-be borrower said Wells Fargo is illegally denying auto loans to non-U.S. citizens who would otherwise qualify for them and also failed to provide him with an accurate written explanation for the denial, as the law requires. The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of all bank customers in DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, who applied for auto loans.

“Denying individuals the right to contract for a loan simply because they are not U.S. citizens is discriminatory under federal law,” said Michael Litrownik, a lawyer in the case.

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In addition, as Tuesday’s lawsuit noted, “Wells Fargo has a long history of credit discrimination claims.”

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Oakland, Sacramento and Philadelphia have filed suits accusing Wells Fargo of directing nonwhite home borrowers into needlessly expensive mortgage loans. Another private lawsuit in San Francisco accuses the bank of wrongfully denying student loans and credit cards to immigrants in the DACA program.

DACA was established by President Barack Obama in 2012 for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before age 16, have lived here for at least five years, attended school or served in the military and have no serious criminal records. They can obtain renewable two-year reprieves from deportation along with work permits. President Trump is trying to abolish the program and will have his case heard by the Supreme Court in its next term.

The lawsuit was filed by Eduardo Peña, who immigrated from Mexico as a child, obtained DACA status in 2012 and lives with his wife in Illinois, where he works as a tax manager. After applying online for an auto loan last November, the suit said, he was contacted by a Wells Fargo representative, who asked him for his Social Security card and work permit.

Peña provided both documents, but the representative told him he was ineligible because his DACA status would expire before the loan was due, the suit said. He explained that his status would be renewed, but was told again that his application would be denied. The bank later conducted a thorough credit check and gave Peña a high score, but still rejected him, the suit said.

Asked for a written explanation, the bank said it denied the loan because it “couldn’t verify his U.S. residency status,” said Litrownik, his lawyer. He contended the actual reason, which Wells Fargo has acknowledged in other lending categories, was his lack of U.S. citizenship or permanent legal residency — “if you are in DACA, you’re not allowed to get a loan.”

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