LOS ANGELES - What do Yao Ming and Russell Crowe have in common?

They, like Laguna Niguel resident Janice Rooney, can't get a credit card from the Union Bank of California. Despite incredible wealth, or good credit in the case of Rooney, Union Bank won't extend you credit if you are not a U.S. citizen.

In response to its discriminatory policy, Rooney, who is married to a U.S. citizen and was born in the Philippines, filed a lawsuit today in Los Angeles Federal District Court with the ACLU of Southern California and the national ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. Rooney was told last year by Union Bank that her application for a secured credit card was denied simply because she is not a citizen of the United States.

"Denying a credit card to someone because they are a citizen of a different country is discrimination," said Ahilan T. Arulanantham, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.

Rooney, who is a registered nutritionist, entered the United States as a lawful permanent resident. After relocating to the Los Angeles area with her husband, she attempted to establish her own credit by applying for a credit card from Union Bank. The bank denied her application in a form letter that gave the reason: "You are not a citizen of the United States." A second letter from bank legal counsel to Rooney, who eventually received credit at another bank, claimed that the discrimination was legal. The lawsuit seeks to end this policy that potentially could affect the more than 10 million immigrants living here legally as permanent residents.

"If a woman is denied a room at a hotel because of the color of her skin, it's discrimination that must be stopped, even if another hotel takes her in," said ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Ramona Ripston.

Union Bank and at least two other banks, including United First Mortgage of Virginia and First National Bank of Omaha, also appear to follow a policy of denying credit to people who are not U.S. citizens. The bank's prominent advertising campaign, which features large portraits and captions emphasizing that the bank caters to everyone, led Rooney to apply for a credit card there first.

"While my husband was teaching me to drive I saw Union Bank's billboards everywhere. I thought it would be a good bank to choose," said Rooney. "I hope this lawsuit ends this discriminatory policy so that in the future new immigrants aren't treated the way I was."

"Union Bank's policy is as perplexing as it is discriminatory," added Lee Gelernt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "Credit is essential in our society. In a country with 11 million legal immigrants, it doesn't make any sense to say that you must be a U.S. citizen to have a credit card."

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