A student loan debt from almost 30 years ago reportedly put one man in handcuffs.
Houston resident Paul Aker claims seven United States Marshals, dressed in full combat gear and carrying automatic weapons, showed up at his house last week.
“It was totally mind-boggling,” he told Fox News. “I was wondering, why are you here? I am home, I haven’t done anything ... Why are the marshals knocking on my door? It’s amazing.”
Apparently, Aker had taken out a $1,500 federal student loan back in 1987 and had failed to pay it back. He said he was arrested, shackled and taken to federal court, where he was made to sign a payment plan for the 29-year-old debt, which has gone up thanks to interest. He was released shortly after.
Since about 40 million Americans have outstanding student loans, Aker’s arrest troubled many people across the country who began to fear a similar fate.
Now, the truth is, the authorities cannot arrest someone for simply failing to pay their debt. In fact, debtor’s prisons were banned in 1833 after the Supreme Court ruled them as unconstitutional. However, lenders are allowed to obtain judgments against the people who have not made their payments yet.
The New York Times clarified the circumstances surrounding Aker’s arrest, reporting they're a bit more complex than the Houston man made them out to be. Apparently, he had not responded to the government’s requests to pay up and the authorities had been trying to get a hold of him for years.
The U.S. Marshals said in a statement “the situation escalated” after Aker threatened two deputies and said “he had a gun.”
“In order to protect everyone involved, the deputies requested additional law enforcement assistance,” the statement read.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding his arrest, this incident highlights a troubling trend in the student debt crisis and its collection in the U.S.
“There's bound to be a better way to collect on a student loan debt that's so old," Texas Rep. Gene Green said during the interview with Aker. "Our federal resources, our U.S. Marshals and the federal court system are being used by the private sector.”
Moreover, U.S. Marshals will reportedly execute at least 1,500 of these kinds of "service of process" procedures this year in Houston alone.
“This sorry episode amply demonstrates the merciless harshness of the federal student loan system," Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, told Mic.
Having a dozen of armed U.S. Marshals suddenly show up at someone’s door demanding them to pay their loans does seem a little drastic. Some advocates are worried the tactics employed by the government are becoming increasingly aggressive.
Persis Yu, the director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, said that arrests were an extreme version of the “draconian consequences” of the government’s attempts to contact student borrowers.
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