Are Immigrants 'Victims' When They Fail to Pay the Mortgage?

The top right-hand corner of Monday's Washington Post sounds like the return of Hurricane Katrina. "Foreclosure Wave Bears Down on Immigrants" is the headline. Reporter Kirstin Downey begins: "Immigrants are emerging as among the first victims of a growing wave of home foreclosures in the Washington area as mortgage lending problems multiply locally and across the country."

But the "victims of a wave" line fails to ask the question: at what point are people who make bad financial decisions responsible for their own fate? The heart-breaking individual stories Downey tells could have been avoided if the struggling homeowners had stared harder at the numbers.

Nahid Azimi, a supermarket cashier making $2,400 a month "found herself strapped into a no-down-payment loan with payments of $3,800 a month." That's a bad situation. But Downey's language (she "found herself" in a bad loan, as if she was blindfolded and walked through a maze) doesn't suggest she has any personal responsibility, even though Azimi's quotes show that clearly she wants to do the right thing.

Another sad story of the Santos family getting stuck with trying to pay for two houses on a $60,000 income shows out the Washington-area real-estate market has flattened. They could have waited until one house was sold before buying a second, but to the Post, they're still "victims" of an impersonal "wave." The headline inside the paper as the story continued was "With Low Pay and Job Losses, Immigrants Among First Foreclosure Victims."

These stories were used to illustrate a liberal point, that "laissez-faire regulatory policies" are the cause. Allen Fishbein, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America, is brought in to declare "The regulators should have been more concerned about protecting consumers than about protecting financial institutions." But at what point is the consumer responsible for stepping into water over their head?

Economy Personal Finance Housing Washington Post
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