I knew something was wrong when my friend came running out of her house and cried out, “Leon, your wife just called. She said please don’t be upset with her!”
I and my friend’s husband, a visiting professor from Canada at the University of California-Irvine, were just returning from a relaxing hike in Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park. Now my mellow mood from communing with nature vanished in an instant.
Once on the phone with Ana, I quickly learned the source of her distress. Several days earlier, I had responded to a coupon/ad that appeared in my mailbox. The promotion promised to clean the carpets of any three rooms in a home for $19.95.
Originally I had planned to be at our townhouse myself for the carpet cleaning, but then my Canadian friend invited me on a hike. I left $25 for my wife to pay and tip the cleaner. It didn’t seem that complicated or risky, even though at that time my wife, a 25-year-old Spanish-speaking immigrant from Honduras, still had an uncertain command of English.
Now Ana was telling me that the carpet cleaner had charged her nearly $500, not $19.95 – 25 times more than what we were supposed to have paid!
When I got home, my distraught wife told me that the cleaner, a single male who I later learned was an immigrant from Israel, had employed a common tactic of criminal con men – he asked her if she wanted him to use a slightly different procedure. She didn’t fully understand, but it didn’t seem like a big deal, so she assented and thought nothing of it. Yet she had just become a victim of “bait and switch.”
When he finished after just 40 minutes he presented Ana a bill for $495. She freaked out and pleaded that she all she had was $25 in cash. Then his demeanor changed from pleasant to menacing. Harshly, he demanded payment. He was alone with my wife and our young son inside our home. He told her she would have to use a credit card, and so with a shudder, she did. She wanted this intimidating stranger out of our home ASAP.
For a year, I fought this fraudulent charge with Citibank and complained to the Better Business Bureau, to no avail. I won an uncontested judgment in Small Claims Court. Ultimately I supplied my documentation to prosecutors in Los Angeles County to help build a fraud case against this scam artist, because he had apparently ripped off many unwitting victims. My only real satisfaction was once when this jerk called my office to cuss and threaten me for pursuing him so doggedly. I yelled and swore right back at him from my cubicle – to the shock of my better-behaved officemates.
But the larger point of this personal anecdote is that many new immigrants, legal and illegal alike, are vulnerable for one or more reasons. They are not infrequently victimized by other immigrants and legal or illegal aliens; in this case, an unscrupulous operator who happened to be from the Middle East.
Except when discussing “coyotes” and drug runners or “mules,” or the occasional lurid story of human trafficking or forced servitude (in essence, slavery) in wealthy foreigners’ or diplomats’ homes, the lame mainstream media is largely and perhaps deliberately silent on the phenomenon of flourishing exploitation of some immigrants by other immigrants.
It is simply more politically correct to blame “nativist,” “racist,” “bigoted” or “xenophobic” American “haters” and crooked businessmen for any and all egregious abuse of newcomers to America.