Give us your huddled masses ... | Arkansas Blog

Monday, June 5, 2006

Give us your huddled masses ...

Posted By on Mon, Jun 5, 2006 at 1:48 PM

... and we'll fleece them. Chicago Tribune (reg. reqd.) reports on Laotian immigrants gone bust in the poultry business in Arkansas and surrounding states.

Across Arkansas, Oklahoma and southern Missouri, more than a dozen Hmong poultry farmers--most of them uneducated Vietnam-era refugees with little command of English--have filed for bankruptcy protection this year. Hmong community leaders and advocacy groups estimate that scores of others are in financial trouble.

All of the farmers in bankruptcy appear to have paid far more for their farms than they were worth and are saddled with large mortgages they cannot repay. Most say they were told to sign loan documents they didn't understand that seemed to greatly overstate the income potential of their farms and understate their expenses.

Now small-farmer support groups, attorneys and Agriculture Department officials are asking whether some of the Hmong, who began moving here five years ago from Minnesota, Wisconsin and California, were defrauded.

All the loans have one feature in common: They are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency program to assist minority farmers, which pays off up to 95 percent of each loan if the farmer defaults, thus relieving the banks of nearly all risk.

Advocates for the Hmong wonder whether an informal "good old boy" business network spread the word that the Asian immigrants, who typically had cash for down payments, were easy marks--and a chance to unload troubled farms.

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