SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A national bank unlawfully denied bank services to a DACA recipient based solely on the individual’s immigration status, according to a federal lawsuit filed today.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mariela Aguilar Velazquez, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) after Ally Bank refused to consider her application for a checking account because she is not a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.

The lawsuit challenges Ally Bank’s policy as alienage discrimination in the formation of contracts and a violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which specifically prohibits discrimination by business establishments in California based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, immigration status, age, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation.

“For many years, the law has been clear that policies that deny equal treatment because of immigration status are unlawful,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “Such policies are also bad business practice because they target important economic contributors for exclusion and unfair treatment.”

In November 2020, Aguilar applied to open a checking and savings account with Ally Bank through its online portal.  After filling out an application, Aguilar uploaded her employment authorization card and Social Security Number obtained under DACA. Two days later, she received a phone call from an Ally Bank representative informing Aguilar that she was ineligible to open a checking and savings account with Ally Bank because she is not a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.  Aguilar asked the representative whether this denial was allowed by law.  The representative answered that it is Ally Bank’s policy to deny anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.  Aguilar later received a letter from the bank stating that “we only offer accounts to U.S. citizens and resident aliens.”

“I'm bringing this case to make a large-scale change in banking policies,” Aguilar said.  “As someone who grew up in the United States, the only country I know, it’s hurtful to be excluded based on my immigration status. So many of us immigrants contribute to the economy yet banks are putting up obstacles to financial advancement.”

There is no state or federal law that requires financial institutions to restrict banking services to customers based on alienage.

Ally Bank is a direct banking subsidiary of Ally Financial Inc., a Delaware corporation registered with the California Secretary of State as a foreign corporation qualified to conduct business in the State of California.

“Immigrants are often unjustly excluded from the economy, even for basic financial services such as opening a savings account with a bank,” said MALDEF attorney Deylin Thrift-Viveros. “These limitations open the door to predatory lending and check-cashing businesses to take advantage of this often-vulnerable population. We’re bringing this case to ensure that Ally Bank changes its policies and to put other financial institutions on notice that they must comply with the law, as well.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of California Sacramento Division and seeks class certification.