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"War on terror" turned inward

Review by Justin Akers Chacón | February 23, 2007 | Page 13

Deepa Fernandes, Targeted: Homeland Security and the Business of Immigration. Seven Stories Press, 2007, 303 pages, $16.95.

THERE'S A shadow war taking place with casualties mounting daily.

This is not the war raging in the back allies of Sadr City or in the burned out villages across the Anbar Province; it is happening in San Diego, Miami, New York and other cities across the U.S. It is not being fought against "suspected militants," "insurgents" or "Al-Qaeda operatives," but rather taxi drivers, farm workers and engineering students.

This is America's "war on terror" turned inward--an expanding regime of incarceration and deportation that is consuming immigrant communities. This is the subject of Deepa Fernandes' exhaustively researched book Targeted: Homeland Security and the Business of Immigration.

Twice an immigrant herself (to the U.S. via Australia and India), her perspective is of one who has had to travail the labyrinthine and arbitrary world of U.S. immigration politics and who emerged from the experience a committed fighter for social justice.

Targeted is framed by an intelligent understanding of the global factors that drive immigration into the U.S. For instance, she traces the origins of the border crackdown to the fact that the North American Free Trade Agreement has created a "divide between rich and poor in Mexico [that] has become one of the greatest in the world outside of Africa."

She then examines the many layers of immigration controls that have spawned, expanded and entangled many immigrants once in the country.

The book is laden with heart-breaking stories. Not only are immigrants the fastest-growing sector of the prison population, the channels between arrest and deportation have narrowed so rapidly that the rate of expulsion is exploding.

Since 1995, over 1.5 million people have been deported, with 200,000 people deported in 2004 alone. Fraught with stories of family separation, bureaucratic ineptitude and the willful neglect of human rights, Fernandes' empirical evidence alone is a damning indictment of U.S. policy.

But she doesn't stop there, she goes on to map out the unholy partnership of corporations and hate groups, each with their self-motivated reasons for engineering an anti-immigrant climate in the U.S.

In this, Fernandes dissects what she refers to as the "immigration industrial complex," referring to the fusion of big business with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), abetted by an increasingly privatized and punitive approach to immigration enforcement in the wake of 9/11.

Her investigative research locates the beginnings of the DHS to Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council, a cabal of corporate CEOs that signaled that the path to "Homeland defense" would run through the bloated pocketbooks of corporate America. Spending on projects for "national defense" has skyrocketed, from $13 billion in 2000 to over $50 billion in 2006, a 300 percent increase.

Corporate courtiers have lined the streets of Washington, D.C., to obtain lucrative contracts to mastermind the technology of immigration restriction: pre-fabricated detention centers, unmanned aerial drones and integrated database systems (to catalog the foreign-born).

In 2003, over 490 firms employed 2,260 lobbyists specifically for the task of influencing the outcomes of homeland security-related policy (four times more than defense-related legislation), with 82 percent of lobbyists who were government officials targeting their former agency or government office specifically.

In one chapter, Fernandes shows how racism is the bedrock of U.S. immigration policy, before and after 9/11, and how the far right is shaping the debate. "Polished" hate groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Numbers USA, are just two of 13 anti-immigrant organizations that are the project of John Tanton and his cohorts, documented racists with money, power and pull within official channels.

Fernandes documents how these organizations have cross-fertilized with openly racist organizations such as the Conservative Citizens Councils, various Nazi and Klan formations and followers of David Duke. It is from this fetid swamp that the Minutemen and other anti-immigrant groups have evolved, media-savvy but seething with racist rage.

She points out how these formations have adopted the "bullets to ballots" strategy to leverage racism into the mainstream by rallying the racist right into electoral campaigns. The two-fold strategy is to shift the discussion of immigration and pressure competing candidates to adopt elements of their platform.

California's notorious Proposition 187, sanctions for employers who hire undocumented workers, and the expansion of the border wall are just a few of the far-right's agenda that has been absorbed into the mainstream.

Fortunately, Fernandes doesn't remain silent on the role of the Democrats. She identifies how the rightward path has been greased by policy initiatives that have passed under Democratic leadership. For instance, she identifies the primogenitor of current immigration policy as restrictions passed with Clinton's Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

As a journalist, her writing style is engaging, layered with scientific research and fieldwork, and saturated with anecdotal stories. In fact, the dominant voice in the book is that of immigrants themselves.

While Fernandes doesn't engage in identifying strategies to defeat the "immigration industrial complex," she concludes that "only a mass citizen's movement that demands justice for immigrants and noncitizens could possibly trump the power of Corporate America." This book is an essential resource for the immigrant rights movement.

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