‘Dreamer’ student sues Wells Fargo for discrimination

A college student and a Latino civil rights group sued Wells Fargo & Co. in federal court in San Francisco for allegedly denying student loans to young immigrants who have deportation deferments.

The lawsuit claims the bank “outright refuses to extend loans to individuals who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.” It charges that the alleged policy violates federal civil rights law, California civil rights law and California’s unfair business practices law.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Mitzie Perez, a junior at the University of California, Riverside, and the California League of United Latin American Citizens, known as LULAC.

They are represented by lawyers working with the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF.

Perez, who came to the United States with her parents from Guatemala at the age of 5, gained temporary authorization to stay under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program established by President Obama in 2012.

The program grants renewable authorizations for two-year stays and the ability to obtain a federal work permit and a Social Security number for undocumented people who arrived in the United States before the age of 16.

Perez claims in the lawsuit that she was unfairly denied a student loan by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo in August because she was neither a citizen nor a lawful permanent resident.

She says in the suit that she had all the identification documents needed under federal banking rules for Wells Fargo to ascertain her identity, including her passport, Social Security number, driver’s license and work permit.

The lawsuit seeks to be certified as a class action on behalf of all people in the United States who were denied loans or other products by Wells Fargo since 2013 because they were not citizens, despite meeting the identification requirements.

The suit asks for an injunction barring the alleged discrimination and for a financial compensatory and punitive award.

MALDEF President Thomas Saenz said in a statement:

“All students should be treated equally in accessing the loan assistance needed to complete a university education. … The nation and California have a dire need for educated workers, and discrimination that impedes the expansion of that educated workforce is against the public interest and should be promptly eliminated.”

Wells Fargo issued a statement saying that while it respects the work of LULAC and MALDEF:

“… we are disappointed they filed a lawsuit rather than work with us on solutions to help people realize their goals of higher education. … Wells Fargo understands the dream of pursuing higher education and we remain focused on our responsible lending practices to assist temporary and permanent residents and U.S. citizens in obtaining student financing.”