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Targeted: National Security and the Business of Immigration

Vani Natarajan
Date Published: 
November 01, 2007

Seven Stories Press, 2006

This book finds Fernandes (host of WBAI's radio show Wakeup Call) taking on the topic of immigration policy. It's one that she has explored in some depth in her work as a radio journalist. Targeted reveals historical patterns that have shaped policies in the US today, along with the ways immigrant lives are impacted by these policies. It examines how capitalism and white supremacist thought mingle to create a world where people gain political and financial power by criminalizing and terrorizing immigrant communities.

Fernandes explores many facets of immigration, threading together excerpted interviews, statistics, historical background on immigration policy, anecdotes of her travels, and additional research. She divides the book into two parts. Part one looks at "immigration tracks," while part two explores "primary forces driving immigration policy in the United States."

In a passage from part one, the author relates the story of a Haitian-born man who enlisted to fight in the Iraq War after having been promised citizenship. He is later betrayed by his supervisors and eventually deported to a prison in Haiti. Each immigration track reveals its labyrinthine qualities. Many immigrants end up in prison indefinitely or deported back to circumstances that they previously had tried to flee. Promised trials get deferred, minimal convictions (fishing without a license is one example) halt the path to documentation, and bosses turn on the people upon whose work their wealth depends. Other accounts relate how student and worker programs let universities and companies profit while placing restrictions on immigrants' daily lives, and how Customs and Border patrol officials terrorize those crossing the border.

In 2004, George Bush said, "I have made it abundantly clear to the Coast Guard that we will turn back any refugee that attempts to reach our shore. And the message needs to be very clear as well to the Haitian people." Around 95% of asylum applications from Haiti are routinely rejected by the US. Targeted examines closely how racism has shaped these trends.

Fernandes's research and interviews convey what the cold and abstract language of policies can't: how families are torn apart and how people are exploited by a system with no accountability to those impacted the most.

In part two, the author takes her investigative journalist skills to the topic of the immigration industrial complex. She excels at providing details to illustrate its machinery, showing how prisons and detention centers, new and complicated surveillance gadgets, and deals cut between DHS and corporations all connect with each other, held aloft by talk of "security." Her chilling research on white supremacists and their ties to Congresspeople, like Tom Tancredo (Republican—Colorado) proves an upsetting and engaging read.

Social justice

Targeted also relates specific instances where technology serves racist ideology. In one example, a white supremacist vigilante in California develops a twenty-pound wooden robotic flying machine meant to roam the border regions, detecting through heat sensors the movement of people crossing. Fernandes points out that these vehicles echo a model of unmanned drones developed by the Israeli military, prompting the reader to consider how the targeting of immigrants in the US border regions reflects violent policing of borders around the world.

The sheer number of facts and narratives, as well as "on location" places cited, make this book dizzying to read, yet well-organized. In providing details of her own life, the author shares her processes of self-education, as well as her struggles as an immigrant all too familiar with secondary inspection rooms. She debunks the idea that journalists must remain detached, neutral, and dispassionate. She does not hesitate to describe instances where her own preconceptions are unlearned, and where she becomes politicized from listening to people's stories. This makes the book especially engaging.

As Fernandes touches on how border policies have affected indigenous communities in North America, both in the south and north, it would be helpful to find out more. Also, though the book does not look at movements for immigrant rights, some writing on what immigrant-led organizing has focused on throughout US history and in recent years would add to the impact of the book.

In Targeted, Fernandes does away with the idea that immigration is a single, isolated issue. This book shows us that a vision of social justice should fully prioritize the voices of immigrants and make clear the connections between systems of oppression so that they can truly be fought.