SPOKANE, Wash. – A Latino civil rights organization is suing a Spokane, Washington-based credit union for unlawfully denying DACA recipients financial services based on their immigration status.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Roger M. Townsend, of Seattle-based Breskin Johnson & Townsend, PLLC, filed a federal lawsuit against Spokane Teachers Credit Union (STCU) on behalf of Ana Ayala, 26, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The lawsuit challenges the credit union’s discriminatory lending policy as a violation of federal civil rights law and state law that bars discrimination based on alienage or immigration status.

“Discrimination against DACA recipients is not only irrational, but a significant defect in our economy,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “We all thrive under an economy that is free of senseless discrimination; that plainly includes accurately recognizing DACA recipients as important members of the American economic workforce.”

At issue is STCU’s decision to deny Ayala a car loan after initially approving it in 2023. Ayala, who currently works as a care coordinator at a physical therapy center, purchased a used car from a dealership in August of 2023.  As part of the purchase, Ayala applied and was approved for a $19,800 car loan from STCU. About two weeks later, the car dealership told Ayala that STCU was requesting more information and documentation, including her Social Security number. As a DACA recipient, Ayala is authorized to work in the U.S. and has a work-only Social Security number. The dealership later informed Ayala that STCU had denied her loan because of her DACA status.

Internal communications between the dealer and STCU confirmed that the credit union received Ayala’s social security information but opted to deny the loan nevertheless, requiring proof of permanent residency or citizenship, according to the lawsuit. But in a letter sent to Ayala by STCU also stated that the reason for denying the loan was “incomplete identity information.” Ayala was able to secure another loan, but at a higher rate, from another lender.

“Initially, I was delighted to receive approval for the loan,” said Ayala. “However, I was disheartened to learn that the approval was later retracted solely based on my DACA status. It is my belief that everyone should be treated fairly and equally, regardless of their immigration status.”

MALDEF attorneys argue that STCU’s denial of the loan to Ayala violates Section 1981 of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Washington Law Against Discrimination, which bars discrimination by businesses based on sex, race, color, citizenship, and immigration status.

“STCU states that it is the largest credit union in the Pacific Northwest and North Idaho, yet it discriminates against DACA recipients and immigrants on arbitrary grounds that prevent them from obtaining necessary credit and bank products to improve their lives,” said Luis Lozada, MALDEF staff attorney.

STCU is a member-owned credit union that serves the state of Washington and North Idaho. Founded in 1934, the credit union serves more than 274,000 members in 38 locations.

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

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

Read the complaint HERE.