Wells Fargo sued for denying loan to Dreamer

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Wells Fargo’s legal woes have expanded to claims the bank wrongly denied an auto loan for a migrant working in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to a lawsuit filed in a California federal court Tuesday.

Eduardo Peña, who was born in Mexico and is a resident of Illinois, alleges that Wells Fargo discriminated against him over his immigration status when he applied for a car loan online in November 2018. Peña, who has a Social Security number and a work permit, claims the bank never provided an accurate written explanation for denying the loan, which is a potential violation of federal law.

Peña claims the decision is part of a wider practice of excluding so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children — a flashpoint issue in the immigration debate that industry executives have tried to steer away from in the past.

“Wells Fargo’s discriminatory auto loan policies are of a piece with the bank’s broader discriminatory consumer lending policies,” according to the lawsuit. “Plaintiff is similarly ineligible for a Wells Fargo student loan, unsecured credit card, personal loan, and small business loan due to his status under DACA.”

A Wells Fargo spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A similar lawsuit alleging Wells Fargo discriminated against DACA recipients by denying a variety of loans was filed in 2017. Parts of the allegations that centered on auto lending were dismissed because plaintiffs did not have standing, a federal judge previously ruled. The suit filed Tuesday would give a court the chance to rule on Wells' auto lending practices specifically.

The suit is the latest headache for Wells Fargo since it was revealed in 2016 that employees were opening phony credit card and banking accounts in order to hit sales targets and earn bonuses. Wells has since been involved in scandals related to overcharging on mortgage rate lock fees and car insurance, improperly foreclosing on homeowners, repossessing cars from service members, and even adding on services like pet insurance to clients’ accounts. The San Francisco-based bank’s wealth management unit has also come under federal investigation for improper referrals.

Wells Fargo’s search for a new CEO has dragged on after Tim Sloan stepped down in March.

According to the latest lawsuit, a Wells Fargo loan officer told Peña during the application process that his DACA status had expired. Peña said it would be renewed and that he was still authorized to work in the U.S. for a two-year period.

Michael Litrownik, Peña's attorney with the law firm Outten & Golden, is pursuing class-action status for the claims and is seeking an injunction against the bank and its employees from using DACA status alone to deny services.

There are an estimated 669,000 migrants with an active DACA status and another 36,000 with their renewal pending as of April, according to the latest data released by the Department of Homeland Security in June.

“Denying individuals the right to contract for a loan simply because they are not U.S. citizens is discriminatory under federal law,” Litrownik said in a statement. “DACA recipients should be treated fairly and evaluated for credit in the same way as U.S. citizens and permanent residents.”

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