Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Migration and Trust

Two bits of news in the New York Times concerning immigration: Man Posed as Yale Aide in Swindle of Irish Immigrants and Overhaul of Immigration Law Could Reshape New York. Both pieces speak to the importance of trust in facilitating immigration. From the swindle story:

The Yale reputation was all Mr. Cucciniello needed to establish his credibility.

Many of the well-off Irish immigrants who paid Mr. Cucciniello travel in the same social circles, and routinely assured one another that they were getting the right treatment from a bright assistant at one of the finest universities in America. They never suspected anything was awry until the news of Mr. Cucciniello’s arrest was reported in The Irish Voice this month.

From the immigration reform article:

Yet central to the city’s storied comeback from the precipice of population loss and bankruptcy in the 1970s, most agree, was the big influx of unexpected immigrants — an unintended consequence of the 1965 overhaul, sponsored by an influential Brooklyn representative, Emanuel Celler.

These days, in a Lower East Side neighborhood that has been a cradle of family chain migration to America for 200 years, the deli at Delancey and Allen Streets is a 24-hour operation run by a man from Bangladesh — one of about 70 relatives to follow a Bangladeshi seaman who jumped ship here in 1941. In luxury condominiums nearby, the newest residents include the affluent great-grandchildren of the eastern and southern European immigrants whose teeming poverty in the tenements prompted immigration quotas in the 1920s to keep out their kind.

And when these newcomers need a key, they turn to Good Locksmith Inc. on Grand Street, a business run by the Lai family from China, who finally unlocked their door to America, relative by relative, after being unwelcome by law for a century.

The second quote should make Pittsburgh policymakers sit up and take notice. US immigration reform facilitated New York City's transition to financial solvency and its rise to the top of the global urban hierarchy. One of New York's greatest assets is its long history of attracting newcomers, who in turn share an experience with other newcomers thereby developing a strong sense of community. This is a case when one's non-native status can act as an asset.

On the other hand, the first article about the alleged con artist demonstrates a vulnerability to any circle of trust. The Yale credentials served a purpose, but the affirmation from other Irish immigrants in that particular network validated a fraud. The problem is the informal nature of the network and its lack of sophistication. The quality of information shared is never questioned. Unless the service stumbles into to some expertise, the con is on.

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