(TAMPA, FLA.) –  A Latino civil rights organization is suing a Florida credit union for discriminating against a woman who was denied a credit card solely because of her immigration status, according to documents filed in federal court Tuesday.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Symphorien-Saavedra Law P.A. filed the suit on behalf of Nanci Palacios Godinez, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Palacios, 33, was told by GTE Financial that she was not eligible for a credit card because she did not have permanent residency. DACA allows immigrants brought to the United States as children and who meet certain requirements to obtain work authorization and protection against deportation.

“Financial institutions betray the principles of our nation when they engage in this kind of unprincipled discrimination,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “Economic fairness is important to the future ability of our nation to continue to thrive.”

MALDEF attorneys argue that GTE’s denial of credit to Palacios because of her immigration status violates Section 1981 of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibits discrimination based on alienage.  The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division.

“GTE’s policy exemplifies one of the institutional barriers to financial inclusion faced by many Latinos,” said MALDEF attorney Rosa Saavedra Vanacore. “We’re bringing this case to ensure that this credit union does not discriminate on the basis of immigration status. Everyone should have the right to obtain a credit card and build credit for upward mobility.”

Palacios, a Mexican citizen living in a suburb of Tampa, applied for a joint bank account at GTE with her then-fiancé in May 2020. About a year later, she applied online for a credit card from the credit union. On May 6, 2021 GTE informed Palacios that her application had been approved and requested additional documentation including references, a driver’s license and a valid green card, also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident card. Palacios supplied the documents, including her Social Security number, but in place of a green card, she submitted her Employment Authorization Card and her DACA approval letter.  A few days later, Palacios also delivered her documents in person to one of GTE’s branches.

After contacting GTE several times to check on the progress of her application, Palacios was told by a representative that her application was being denied because she did not have a green card. When Palacios asked why a green card was required she was told by the representative that the bank should never have allowed her to open an account in the first place. According to GTE’s website, the credit union requires a Social Security number, proof of residency such as citizenship or a Permanent Resident Card or other U.S. government-issued identification to become a member or open an account.

After her application was rejected Palacios received a letter from the credit union saying the denial was because she had a low credit score, which Palacios disputes.

“I am bringing this case forward with the hope that no one else is discriminated against because of their immigration status,” said Palacios Godinez. “Many times as immigrants we keep quiet due to fear or shame. My hope is that my case allows for others that have been faced with the same situation to also come forward.”

GTE Financial is a member-owned credit union based in Tampa, Florida. It provides banking services, auto loans, mortgages, home equity loans, personal loans, and investment services.

“I am proud to work with MALDEF to bring this suit and I hope other DACA recipients who have been victims of similar discriminatory policies from GTE come forward,” said  Frank Symphorien-Saavedra, founder of Symphorien-Saavedra Law.

This lawsuit is the eighth filed by MALDEF since 2017 challenging the policies of financial institutions that discriminate against DACA.

Read the complaint HERE