Alejandro Portes

Alejandro Portes is the Howard Harrison and Gabrielle Snyder Beck Professor of Sociology and the director of the Center for Migration and Development at Princeton University.

Recent Articles

The Fence to Nowhere

More than ever, we need to craft an accord on migrant workers.

Earlier this year as the Iraq crisis deepened with no end in sight, an administration in disgrace sought to score some kind of legislative victory elsewhere. Immigration reform was a good candidate since a coalition of both the economic right, interested in abundant migrant labor, and the moderate left, interested in human rights and ending migrant exploitation in the workplace, could overcome the cultural right's intransigent opposition to immigration reform. Accordingly, the Bush administration teamed with liberal Senate Democrats to craft a bill that would provide a path to legalization for the estimated 10 to 12 million unauthorized immigrants already in the country, as well as stem the flow of immigration through additional border enforcement and the creation of a temporary labor entry program. The Bush proposal ultimately failed -- but the challenge of reform is still with us. Congress' attempts to grapple with the problem of immigration -- "our broken borders," as CNN's Lou...

Unsolved Mysteries: The Tocqueville Files II

I n their search for new ideas, intellectuals and policymakers across the political spectrum have recently become enchanted with the concept of social capital. Liberals and conservatives alike now celebrate social capital as the key to success in a myriad of domestic issues—from public education, aging, and mental health to the battle against inner-city crime and the rejuvenation of America's small towns. In the international arena, strong social capital supposedly explains East Asia's economic success, while inadequate social capital explains the failure of the former Soviet Republics. In his latest volume, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity , Francis Fukuyama argues that the most successful nations in the new free-market world will be those with religious and cultural underpinnings that promote voluntary associations and help prepare people to work cooperatively in large organizations. And in two...

Immigration's Aftermath

I t is well known by now that immigration is changing the face of America. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of foreign-born persons in the United States surged to 28 million in 2000 and now represents 12 percent of the total population, the highest figures in a century. In New York City, 54 percent of the population is of foreign stock -- that is, immigrants and children of immigrants. The figure increases to 62 percent in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and to an amazing 72 percent in Miami. All around us, in these cities and elsewhere, the sounds of foreign languages and the sights of a kaleidoscope of cultures are readily apparent. But the long-term consequences are much less well known. A driving force behind today's immigrant wave is the labor needs of the American economy. While those needs encompass a substantial demand for immigrant engineers and computer programmers in high-tech industries, the vast majority of today's immigrants are employed in menial, low-...

Global Villagers: The Rise of Transnational Communities

A new breed of immigrant community is breaking down national borders and confounding traditional notions of citizenship.

W hen the residents of Ticuani, a small farming community in the Mixteca region of Mexico, wanted a clean water supply, they turned to a private civic group, the Ticuani Potable Water Committee. As it had many times before, the committee delivered: It quickly raised $50,000, mostly in $100 donations, to purchase and install new tubing to bring clean water to Ticuani. This story, reported by the sociologist Robert C. Smith, might seem to be an unremarkable tale of civic cooperation. The water committee, however, wasn't in Ticuani or even in Mexico. It was in Brooklyn, New York. Nor was this just a case of immigrants sending money back home; thanks to modern telecommunications and air travel, the committee was directly involved. After learning that the tubes had arrived, the committee members flew from JFK Airport on a Friday, conferred with contractors and authorities over the weekend, and returned in time for work Monday morning. The water project marked the twentieth anniversary of...

Strategic Neglect

W hen José Imperatori, a secretary of the Cuban mission in Washington, D.C., was ordered out of the country last February for his alleged role in a Cuban spy ring, he went on a hunger strike and hired a lawyer. It took four burly FBI agents to get him out of his apartment and into a plane to Canada. Reflecting on the episode, one wonders not only why little Cuba is still spying on the United States after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, but also why any Cuban would spy for his country. Why should an educated man like Imperatori defend a regime that he knows to be economically and ideologically bankrupt? The standard answer is privilege. Cuba, like all former communist regimes, has created a ruling class with an enviable lifestyle: Its members live in exclusive neighborhoods, drive late-model European cars, and often wear Guccis and Rolexes. Borrowing a page from their erstwhile Eastern European colleagues, they have positioned themselves to run the new capitalist corporations set up...