Oakland, CA – A Latino civil rights organization filed a federal class-action lawsuit Friday against a credit union for unlawfully denying a home equity loan to a DACA recipient based on his immigration status.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed the suit on behalf of Ismael Rodriguez Perez, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). At issue is Perez’s request for a home equity line of credit (HELOC) from First Tech Federal Credit Union. Perez was initially told he was approved, but later learned he was denied the loan because he was not a permanent resident. First Tech’s policy is a violation of federal and state civil rights law, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court.

“As federal regulators have recently made clear, there is no legitimate reason under the law to bar access to loan products on the sole basis of an individual’s immigration status,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “Financial entities that justify undue discrimination on the basis of faulty readings of complicated regulations have no defense under our civil rights laws.”

The suit challenges First Tech’s denial of a loan to Perez as a violation of Section 1981 of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866 and of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, immigration status, age and other characteristics.

“We are filing this case because Ismael, like so many others, has been denied fair access to financial products solely because he is a DACA recipient,” said Eduardo Casas, MALDEF staff attorney.  “Access to financial products is more than a luxury; it is an engine of upward mobility for those who do not come from inherited wealth. We are going to ensure that First Tech treats Ismael and other DACA recipients with the dignity that they deserve.”

In 2021, Perez, 31, moved to Oakland, for a job after a completing a postdoctoral fellowship at a laboratory in Washington State where he owns a house. In June 2022, Perez applied for a HELOC through First Tech’s website.

A representative from First Tech subsequently asked Perez to upload his legal residency card. Perez complied by sending the Employment Authorization Card he was given under DACA, and the representative continued with the loan process. A few weeks later, Perez was told his loan had been approved on condition that he submit a Legal Permanent Resident/Green Card. When Perez informed the representative that he only had his employment authorization card, he was told that that would not be sufficient. On July 28, Perez was told First Tech would not give him the loan because DACA recipients were not eligible under Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) guidelines. When Perez asked the First Tech representative to take another look at the Fannie Mae rules, he was told that there were some conditions under which DACA recipients were eligible but that “First Tech guidelines did not allow for this type of status.”

“I’ve been a DACA recipient for more than a decade and am constantly reminded that I am not fully accepted in this remarkable nation,” said Perez. “I applied for a loan convinced that as a taxpayer and property owner, I qualified. I was denied a loan based on my immigration status and despite the equity of my home and my credit worthiness. Such discrimination is simply wrong.”

First Tech Federal Credit Union is an Oregon-based member-owned credit union that manages $17 billion in assets. It serves nearly 650,000 members.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Northern District of California, seeks class certification.

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

Read the complaint HERE