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Deception is a pervasive issue. This special report covers
the mistaken deception associated with lawyers,
the deception anonymous cyberbullies pull over victims and
the deception one Kenyan refugee used to immigrate to America.
After travelling 8,000 miles and 18 hours from Nairobi, Kenya to Chicago, he reached his destination. Along the route he became a 16-year-old under the name William, taking his older brother’s identity.
The switch happened before his journey to America. He has a family of four brothers and four sisters. His father, who had passed away in bed when John was a young boy, was not there for support. Without someone to arrange for papers, the family was without options.
There were only documents for five children to come to America, and John was not one of them. But his family could not leave behind a child who could not attempt to live on his own, his family could not leave John behind.
That’s when the transformation happened. John took the identity and papers of his older brother and joined his family members in their trip to America.
“I was young,” John said, “and my mom, she didn’t want to leave me over there in Africa by myself, so we switched.”
John’s opportunity to take someone else’s identity, however, may never be available again. Missouri Sen. Will Kraus proposed Senate Bill 590, which will take effect Aug. 28 and require schools to check the immigration status of students. Kraus said the bill would specifically determine the cost of illegal immigration on Missouri’s public schools.
“I proposed the bill because people complained that there was no known cost to the state,” Kraus said. “So, I asked my office to reach out to state agencies to find out the actual cost of illegal immigration on Missouri taxpayers, and I proposed the bill.”
He also stated in his press release, though, that immigration is ultimately a federal issue, and the solution must be a national one.
For now, John’s passage of three connections, two helicopters and one long airplane ride has earned him a life in the States and a tight bond with the other families who travelled with him. John’s family didn’t know English very well, so another family that knew the language better accompanied them on their trip.
“I liked the other family that was translating,” John said. “There were some kids older than me and some that were my age. They were cool. I liked talking to them. But when we were in Chicago, we were separated — from right there,” John said. The family “went to a different state, and we went to this one. After we were separated and we came here, we called them and asked about them. They told us that they were in a different state.”
Despite being separated from his friends, John continued on. The loss of friendships, however, created an even bigger struggle through his first years in America. In fact, he said he wants to return home.
“It’s OK over there. I had a really good life, a lot of friends,” John said. “I don’t know. I might go back. I just miss having fun. But I can’t go back until I finish school.”
America, he said, is not everything he and others thought it would be, especially the people here.
“I was scared because the people in Africa said you don’t see [any] sky or ground [in America]. So I didn’t want to go,” John said. “The people over there think that the people over here make a lot of money. When you actually come to America, it’s different. Turns out it’s not what you think. I’m like, ‘Hey, guys, you want to see America? Just come over here, and you’re going to see if you make a lot of money or not.’’
He had to apply to Care, an organization that helps youth under 18 find a job during the summer, to financially support himself and his family. As a 12-year-old, he had to play the role of a 16-year-old.
Such hardships are common to other refugees who come to America, said Phil Stroessner, a refugee case worker and job developer.
“The biggest and most important obstacle to overcome is employment. Once a refugee finds a job, everything else seems to fall into place,” Stroessner said. “And once [they do], they can begin to distance themselves from [the label of a] ‘refugee’ to ‘community member.’”
While John was struggling to find employment, John’s older brother, whose identity John had taken, was in Sweden studying. The real William had travelled to Sweden as a 16-year-old with another family.
Now 21, William is in college, hoping to graduate soon. But for the past five years, there have been two “Williams” living as the same person, across the world.
On the other side, John was living with his false age of 16 and beginning his life in America attending a junior high, typical for a refugee his age, John said. This experience proved to be yet another difficulty.
“I went to West [Junior High School], but I wasn’t there for long,” John said. “They switched me to middle school because my English was not good, so I was sent back to sixth grade at Lange Middle School.”
Once John transferred to middle school, his mother revealed his true age. She had no choice but to contact the refugee agency and ask to fix his information, which may potentially still contain falsities.
John went through a rigorous process of background checks, common to many refugees, Stroessner said. During such a time, the government hopes to unveil situations like this one.
“It is a great risk for families to try to do this because if they are caught their case would be put on hold,” Stroessner said. “Their resettlement can be delayed and even cancelled. Also, their status here in the United States can be in jeopardy if they are found to have falsified information.”
It’s a real-life movie plot, featuring a boy taking on an all-too-familiar alias — his brother — and starting a new life somewhere else.
To this day, John hasn’t forgotten his real identity. Despite the disclosure, when he dribbles the basketball down the court, his teammates yell, “William!” and “William” responds.
By Jude El-Buri
During middle school, bullies followed and made offensive remarks at junior Jaynell Lardizabal. They even stole her belongings. As one of the few foreigners in the small town in which she lived, bullying was an obstacle she had to overcome.
“A group of girls who I thought were my friends began to grow apart [from me]. In [Physical Education] class, they would steal money and jewelry that belonged to me, tell other classmates about it, then later deny what they did when I confronted them,” Lardizabal said. “I didn’t have anyone to sit by during lunch, so I always sat alone or hid out in the bathroom until lunch was over.”
Those bullies were always close by, she said, calling her names like “chink,” pulling their eyelids to mock her eyes and throwing food at her then pulling away when a teacher walked by.
“In the bathrooms, they would follow me in there and talk about how disgusting I was, mocking my parents with an accent,” said Lardizabal, whose family is from the Philippines. “They would say I resembled a pig or had birth defects or call me ‘the ugliest piece of sh-t they’ve ever seen.”
This bullying epidemic has only become deadlier since the Internet and social networking sites became channels for abuse.
Forty-three percent of teens reported having experienced cyberbullying in 2011, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Nearly one in five teens said a cyberbully pretended to be someone else online to obtain personal information, while 17 percent of teens had someone spread lies about them online.
The Internet has become a new outlet for bullying, making it easy and anonymous.
The United States has experienced an eight percent increase in bullying since 1999, when social networking sites were less prominent, according to the National Center for Education.
Today nearly half of the population has been victims of cyberbullying, but only one in 10 teens tells a parent, according to the i-SAFE foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to Internet safety education.
“I’ve been attacked by anonymous people online via Formspring and Tumblr,” Lardizabal said. “I deleted the hateful comments or questions and tried to shake it off but always found myself thinking about it. Anonymous cyberbullies can still get to people.”
Lardizabal said she reached a milestone when she finally moved to Columbia and came to a new school. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, many people who have been bullied cope by moving or telling an adult. But Lardizabal believes there is a universal lesson to be learned from her story.
“The feeling of alienation never went away,” Lardizabal said, but “I think that teaching children at a younger age to love and accept each other, and for people of older ages to see the aftermath of bullying [can help resolve the issue]. People who bully are completely oblivious to how hurtful they’re really being.”
According to the NCPC, cyberbullying can target people of any age, like it did with social studies teacher Dan Ware. When students created a fake Dan Ware page on Twitter as a joke, it quickly gained popularity. The page contained inappropriate jokes that were considerably mild but then progressively got worse. Eventually, more than a hundred students were following the page. Ware, however, was unaware of the page until he uncovered it during class one day.
“Once I discovered it, I was sitting in a room with 25 students. Two-thirds of those students were following the Twitter page,” Ware said. “They witnessed me discovering it, and 100 percent of the students in the room denied the fact that they were even aware of its existence. And these are kids that I was really close with. They were embarrassed, I think. They were ashamed. They lied, and that hurt.”
Senior Julian Vizitei said he started the page, but only as a joke. He created it with a few others who had Ware as a teacher, representing everything Ware was not. The page, however, spiraled out of control.
“I foolishly thought it wouldn’t hurt anybody. I also never created it to hurt or bully but more as a parody,” Vizitei said. “Unfortunately, that’s what [the page] became when it was discovered, and it did turn out, against my intentions, to hurt.”
It took Ware two months to discover the page, which he said is something the Internet has the potential to do. It lets people create a virtual world where they don’t even have to admit who they are and can remain anonymous for a long time.
“They can hide behind a username; they can hide behind a different identity,” Ware said. “But even if they’re right out there, they can hide behind the fact that they don’t have to look somebody in the eye and say these things.”
Sometimes the bullies are unaware of the damaging effects of their actions, as with Vizitei’s case. Ware said he felt like the kind of deception that occurred via online cyberbullying was multi-layered.
“It underscored to me how in this modern age, people feel a sense of absolution for their deception because of the Internet [and] the anonymity of what you can do on it,” Ware said. “You can say anything and do anything, and it’s not real. It doesn’t matter. And this experience just highlighted to me that it does. It matters immensely, and in some ways it hurt more to have those things written on a Twitter page than to have them said to my face.”
Ware believes cyberbullying can go unnoticed, mainly because it happens in a virtual world with protected identities. According to i-SAFE, more than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, but about the same number have also engaged in cyberbullying themselves.
“I was never bullied as a kid. In a weird way this experience allowed me to feel what that is like, and it hurts,” Ware said. “I don’t think people realize that it’s really easy for students today to walk the halls of Rock Bridge High School and to say, ‘Wow there’s no bullying here. What a great school.’ But it happens every minute of every day, everywhere and never more so than on the Internet.”
Ware believes the lack of face-to-face interaction only makes it easier for bullies to justify their actions, especially because bullies can’t see the emotions of the victim.
“With every comment that’s made on Twitter, on Facebook, through text messaging — it’s pervasive, and I think in some ways it’s more destructive than in-your-face bullying,” Ware said. “That distance that comes through technology doesn’t allow for natural human behaviors to resolve the situation. It doesn’t allow the bullied person to even have the opportunity to show strength in the face of bullying, and I think that makes it more dangerous.”
After finding out about the Twitter page, Ware decided not to go on a witch hunt to find the person who made the page but instead make it a learning experience.
“I came in the next day, and I wrote on my board, ‘Silence is complicity,’” Ware said. “The absence of doing something makes you almost as guilty as the doing, and I think the Internet has allowed that to happen.”
Vizitei said even what one intends to be a joke can be hurtful, especially when using someone’s identity without his knowledge. It can be detrimental to the person’s reputation or really hurt him.
“People who don’t understand Twitter could mistake it and think it’s actually [Ware], which would have been horrible,” Vizitei said. “I also learned that you can’t just hide behind the Internet. You have to take responsibility for what you said. If you don’t you’re just a coward using the Internet to be childish and cruel.”
Three years ago the Gallup Organization asked 2,017 American adults the following question: “Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields — very high, high, average, low or very low?”
The survey takers then rated 22 different professions from a list.
Second only to members of Congress, lawyers were the most distrusted professionals on the list. The Gallup poll cites the high rate of distrust arises from a general suspicion about how lawyers handle their clients and cases.
Senior Syed Ejaz plans to follow a law career in his future and feels this idea is a mistaken belief many people have.
“It’s a terrible misconception. … Lawyers don’t deceive anyone. Lawyers are bound to the highest degree to practice with a strong set of ethics,” Ejaz said. “They’re obligated to use evidence and testimony to either reach a settlement or win the trial. Since there is no lying involved, lawyers are simply doing what they can legally and ethically do to do their duties.”
St. Louis-based lawyer Gerald Tanner, J.D., said many people see lawyers in a bad light because the only time they need lawyers is when something negative occurs. He said lawyers are often judged as greedy, willing to win at any cost, and they are often associated with the clients they serve.
“People don’t realize that some lawyers don’t pick their own clients. Defense lawyers have to defend the clients they are assigned to,” Tanner said. “So you have normal lawyers defending rapists and murderers, and many people get the wrong idea that we’re all moralless. … That’s what creates the completely false sense of mistrust that we can’t do anything about.”
Tanner cited the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which states lawyers are never to knowingly make false statements during their examinations.
“We are under no circumstances allowed to lie during a trial. People think that we do anything to win our trials, but that’s not totally true,” Tanner said. “We do everything we can in our power to try to support our clients, but we cannot tell lies in court. There are moral and ethical standards in my profession, just like any other, that require strict control over what comes out of my mouth.”
However, nowhere in the Bar Association’s rules are lawyers required to know what the truth actually is. This sometimes creates scenarios for lawyers where they have to decide between defending a client zealously though they may think they are guilty.
“I’ve been in situations where the evidence is clearly pointing to my client being guilty of their charges; however, they deny it and want to plead not guilty,” Tanner said. “In that kind of situation, we as lawyers have to try to come up with evidence that would fit the client’s version of the story. It’s hard, but we’re obligated to cover for them without falsehoods.”
Junior Kyle Johnson’s parents were involved in a car accident three years ago and then sued for damages. Their experience with a lawyer has left a sour taste in Johnson’s mouth about the profession.
“Because of the accident, my parents had to hire a lawyer to represent them in the lawsuit. … The lawyer basically charged them for hours where they didn’t get anything done; it was really selfish of him,” Johnson said. “And if you’ve never been involved with a lawyer they charge a lot of money for their services.”
The punishment lawyers can face for being caught lying or encouraging a client to lie includes being disbarred and thus losing their license to practice law along with fines and suspensions. Tanner said lawyers have to be careful of how they organize their arguments to avoid facing penalties like disbarment.
“Either of those are serious offences and the punishments are just as serious. Being disbarred is probably the biggest shame that can come to a lawyer; it’s publicly losing the right to practice law, and no lawyer wants to be a part of that,” Tanner said. “So you have to be careful when you defend your client. Tread lightly and be aware of the rules that you have to follow.”
Even though the occupation involves some sorts of deception, Ejaz believes the benefits of being a lawyer outweigh the costs. To him lawyers provide a valuable service and society’s view on the profession has no effect on his plans.
“They’re obligated to use evidence and testimony to either reach a settlement or win the trial,” Ejaz said. However, lying as part of a job, “definitely would bother me, but if I must do it for the greater good, I would probably end up doing it. … Being a lawyer is actually a very honorable thing to do. Whether you’re [a] defense attorney, a prosecutor or a civil attorney, you’re either establishing justice or enabling someone who doesn’t have the power of the law to use it.”
Ejaz said the bad reputation is a result of people assuming all lawyers deceive people for personal gain, but the misconception could easily be avoided if they recognized lawyers are subject to the same desires and misgivings as anyone else.
“They’re the least trusted and probably the most hated professionals out there. It really makes no impact on me,” Ejaz said. “For one, although most people hate lawyers in general, whenever you meet one, you don’t feel the same way because you realize they’re people, too.”
By Sami Pathan