MIAMI – A Latino civil rights group is suing a Florida credit union over unlawful lending policies that discriminate against immigrants, according to a filing in federal court Wednesday.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and Orlando–based Symphorien-Saavedra Law filed the suit against Space Coast Credit Union on behalf of Jose Rendon Leyva. Rendon, 34, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), is authorized to work in the United States.

Attorneys are challenging Space Coast’s policy of denying financial services to applicants who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents as a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866, which prohibits discrimination based on alienage. This is the 13th lawsuit filed by MALDEF since 2017 that challenges the policies of financial institutions that discriminate against DACA recipients and other immigrants.

“Discrimination in banking distorts our economy in ways damaging to everyone in the United States,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “These practices are unlawful and must end.”

In December 2022, Rendon and his U.S. citizen-partner were pre-approved by Space Coast for a home loan. The pair found a home in March 2023, and completed the loan application. The application included three options under “citizenship” and Rendon marked “non-permanent resident alien.” His partner checked “U.S. citizen.”  Days later Rendon was told by Space Coast the couple would not get the loan because he could not prove residency. A letter followed again noting he was denied a loan because he lacked proof of residency. In a subsequent email to the credit union, Rendon was told that it was a Space Coast “guideline” for lending that applicants have either permanent residency or be a U.S. citizen.

“Access to financial loans is a necessity for many today in order to be able to establish economic stability and growth,” said Andrea Senteno, MALDEF Southeast Regional Counsel.  “We are bringing this case because banks and credit unions continue to discriminate by denying access to financial products solely on the basis of immigration status, just as Space Coast Credit Union has done.  Everyone should be able to receive fair consideration of their loan application.”

Space Coast is based in Melbourne, Florida and provides banking services, auto loans, mortgages, and personal loans to 60,000 members throughout Florida. With 64 branches and assets of $8.6 billion, it is the third-largest credit union in the state.

“I am proud to work with MALDEF to hold financial institutions accountable for discriminatory practices that target DACA recipients who are contributing members of our society,” said Francisco Symphorien-Saavedra, of Symphorien-Saavedra Law P.A.  “DACA recipients arrived in the United States as children, attended our schools, and are an important part of the fabric of their communities. It’s critically important that they be afforded equal financing opportunities so that they can provide for their families.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and seeks class certification.

“Space Coast refused me a loan because of my immigration status, not on whether I could repay,” said Rendon. “With this lawsuit I hope to break the chains of discrimination, and move closer to a world where everyone is treated equally.”

Read the complaint HERE.