A Hispanic civil rights group and a student at a taxpayer-funded university in California are suing Wells Fargo & Company in federal court in San Francisco because, the lawsuit claims, the banking giant is illegally refusing to provide student loans to immigrant students who entered the United States as minors and have deferments which block deportation.
The student plaintiff is Mitzie Perez, a junior at University of California, Riverside.
Perez entered the United States at age 5. She and her parents came to the United States illegally from Guatemala. She has lived in the United States since then.
The lawsuit claims that San Francisco-based Wells Fargo unjustly denied Perez’s application for a student loan in the summer of 2016 solely because she is an illegal immigrant.
Wells Fargo “outright refuses to extend loans to individuals who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents,” the lawsuit, filed on Monday, claims.
The suit alleges that Wells Fargo’s refusal to provide student loans to illegal immigrant students is a violation of federal civil rights law as well as California civil rights law and the state’s unfair business practices law.
Perez falls under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in June 2012.
The executive order establishing the deferral program gives temporary legal status to illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 — in renewable, two-year chunks — and makes them eligible for work permits and gives them Social Security numbers.
The order does not extend to federal student aid, according to fact sheet from the U.S. Department about financial aid eligibility for undocumented students
Students who qualify under the Obama order “may be eligible for state or college financial aid,” the fact sheet says.
The U.S. Department of Education specifically observes that loans are included in the various types of federal student aid.
It’s not clear which of the several types of student loans are at issue in the lawsuit.
The attorneys representing Perez and the League of United Latin American Citizens are coordinating with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which bills itself as America’s foremost Latino legal civil rights organization.
“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,” Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in a statement obtained by the Examiner.
Wells Fargo has issued a milquetoast statement in response to the lawsuit.
“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,” the bank — the third largest in the USA — said, according to the San Francisco newspaper.
The plaintiffs are seeking class action status, which would allow the lawsuit to extend to all student loan applicants in the United States who sought loans from Wells Fargo since 2013 but got rejected only because they are not U.S. citizens.
The lawsuit petitions the court to issue an injunction preventing Wells Fargo from denying student loans to illegal immigrants, according to CBS San Francisco.
The suit also asks for punitive and compensatory damages.