Targeted: Homeland Security and the Business of Immigration by Deepa Fernandes provides an in-depth exploration of immigration policies, filled with personal stories, of the United States before and after 9/11. Written in 2007, the book is out-of-date but is still, I would argue, fascinating and important reading. Any facts throughout this post will refer to what is in the book – changes could have been made to policies since it was printed and I haven’t noted any changes unless I’ve been certain of them.
In Targeted, award-winning radio journalist Deepa Fernandes weaves together original research with history, political analysis, and powerful first-person narratives. From the deadly desert crossing to the jail cells holding detainees, she documents the hidden human struggle behind the immigration debate. Herself an immigrant twice over, she is uniquely positioned to share a perspective rarely understood by the pundits from either party. She arms readers with the facts and takes them on the harrowing journey that is everyday life for the hundreds of thousands who’ve dreamed of America – then follows the shocking corporate profits won in the business of Homeland Security.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part contains five chapters which discuss the various immigration tracks, the way they have changed from the early 1990’s to mid-2000’s, and talks about the costs of these changes on lives. The second part examines the industrial complex and big business surrounding the creation of and maintenance of homeland security and detention, and the rise in white nationalist hate groups and anti-immigration sentiment in the US and the concomitant effect on national and state laws. Fernandes provides personal stories throughout the book to highlight the ways in which the policies affect real people and humanize the issue. As she says in the prologue:
As I delved into past and present immigration policy, I learned that one cannot divorce real people and their stories from policy. I have therefore documented the actual experiences of immigrants, noncitizens, and immigration workers to illustrate the impact of the policies. Only by understanding their impact can one evaluate who is benefiting from them, and if they are serving their intended purpose. (page 31)
One point that Fernandes makes throughout the book is the fact that the country is divided into two experiences. If two men are accused of, say, smoking marijuana or driving without a license and one is a citizen while the other is a permanent resident they will both be charged, they will both serve their sentence, but at the end, while the one holding a passport will go on with his life, the permanent resident is put into immigration detention and eventually deported. The vast majority of deportees are not violent criminals or terrorist threats, they are people who have had status issues or been accused of low level crimes. For example, entering the country with a false document gets you detained and charged, and can get you deported – even if you came in with false documentation because you are seeking asylum and had no access to valid documents from the country persecuting you. And that charge can, of course, hurt your asylum case.
Fernandes covers so much ground in this book. She talks about the reasons for migration and the effects of neoliberal policies on economics and job prospects in home countries. She covers the racism and classism inherent in border policing, as evidenced by the differing treatment of the borders along Mexico and Canada (Canada has the Rainbow Bridge and the Peace Bridge, Mexico has walls and unmanned drones and vigilante groups patrolling). She talks as well about the rise of non-citizens as the fastest-growing prison population. And about government ineptitude such as poor record keeping, not abiding by its own rules, and inaccuracies in databases and records which all cause further harm to noncitizens. And the ways in which companies benefit from cheap labor thanks to the ways that H-1B visas are set up. Each topic is woven expertly into the accounts of various specific people as well as into the overview of policies as they relate to specific groups of noncitizens.
In talking about the immigration-industrial complex, the author talks about the creation of the Department of Homeland Security – and the big business interests who were a part of crafting its existence. The private prison industry was failing prior to 9/11, and is now once again booming. Companies which have shown a clear lack of regard for human rights or for safety and security are granted huge government contracts, usually due to extensive lobbying and by recruiting former government employees and members to their boards and staff. Much of these contracts, although touted as being against terrorism, are truly used only to round up immigrants and noncitizens, make money off of their detention, and deport them. Along the way large amounts of information is gathered – and did you know that the Privacy Act doesn’t apply to those who are not citizens or private residents? So the vast amounts of personal information being collected on immigrants is actually subject to no privacy laws.
The hardest chapter to read was the last one, which talks about the rise in white nationalist hate groups and the rise in anti-immigration sentiment in the US. At the time of writing it was pretty bad, although there was some hope of things improving. While there were some improvements in the time since the book was printed, knowing what is going on now made it all the more difficult to read. Fernandes does a great job of outlining individuals and groups who had a hand in moving the country to the right on immigration, and their hate group and racist ties. This is especially where I want to see more recent scholarship because it seems so necessary!
Although there was some repetition of facts and figures (and occasionally of anecdotes and of actual sentences), the book definitely succeeds at painting a broad overview, as well as a detailed examination, of the changes to immigration brought about by 9/11 and the human toll of those changes. She clearly shows the rise in private prisons, the vast sums of money being made by corporations, the shift from bills targeting terrorism to successes touting immigrants detained, and the rise of white-nationalistic sentiments and policies around the country. I hope that one of my upcoming reads on the topic does this good a job but is more current. Although, with the sweeping changes underway now, even books published earlier this year might already start to seem out of date.
* Earlier this year I posted my thoughts on Reece Jones’s Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move and Aviva Chomsky’s Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal. The links will take you to the specific posts. I’m working my way through a number of books on immigration policies, borders, and refugees just for my own interest as a bit of a personal project.