By Martin Bosworth
While polishing up his hard-right credentials in order to shore his foundering Presidential bid, Fred Thompson had this to say to an Iowa voter frustrated with bilingual customer service options:
Janice Easley’s fury over illegal immigration boiled over Saturday as she confronted Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson at the Music Man Square museum. She said she recalled a film about Mexicans who wanted to take over California and New Mexico. Calling illegal immigrants a taxpayer burden, she wondered whether Americans could march in the streets of Mexico and demand welfare. When Iowans call up the power company, she said, “everything is in Spanish; it’s sickening.” â€œYou are so, so right,â€ Thompson responded. English should be the national language, he told the retiree, and immigrants bear some of the blame for the home-loan crisis. â€œA lot of them couldnâ€™t communicate with the people they were getting the mortgage from,â€ he said.
This kind of sleazy appeasement of bigotry in order to please primary voters has won Grampa Fred righteous excoriation from the likes of Steve Benen. And it’s completely deserved–but here’s the thing. There is a very clear connection between immigration and the housing slump, but it’s not what Grampa Fred thinks it is.
As I’ve written about before, one of the chief triggers of the housing boom was the availability of mortgage loans to people who might never have qualified for them otherwise–low-or-no-document loans that were foisted on eager homebuyers with little or no explanation of their consequences. Many of these buyers were undocumented aliens who were hired as contractors or subcontractors to build or refurbish the vast oversupply of homes ordered by developers, and sold in turn by unscrupulous brokers. It was and is a perfect vicious circle of greed and opportunism. And as one of Benen’s commenters notes, even fluent English speakers are easily flummoxed by the complex language of mortgage agreements–is it any shock that this happened to non-English speakers as well?
Today, for example, it was formally announced that New Yorkers who used disgraced lender Ameriquest for a mortgage were entitled to an $18 million settlement from the company, part of an overall $325 million settlement with 49 states for some incredibly shady lending practices, including (but not limited to) “allegations that Ameriquest and its affiliates failed to adequately disclose home loan terms, failed to disclose whether loans carried fixed or adjustable rates, refinanced borrowers into inappropriate loans, inflated the appraisals used to qualify borrowers for loans, and charged excessive loan origination fees and prepayment penalties.”
And this was just one lender. The problem is way, way bigger than any one borrower’s failure to properly read the documents they were given, or the small-minded greed of a specuvestor hoping to flip a home for a quick profit, or an undocumented alien buying a home using loan terms they can’t read. While those examples certainly do exist in great numbers, the problem has its roots in the systemic abuse of easy credit and a business that encourages people to make quick, impulsive decisions with drastic consequences.
And no matter how much racist ideologues and panderers like Grampa Fred want to spin it, the housing slump has claimed as many victims with white faces as it has with black or brown. Stupidity, ignorance, greed, and short-sightedness are universally human qualities, regardless of skin color.
Categories: American Culture