THE POWER CYCLE AND IMMIGRANTS IN THE U.S. by Nicole Garcia, Second-year M.A. Diaconal Ministry

The power cycle, as referenced in the book, Transforming Leadership (Fortress: Everist and Nessan 2008), shows how those in power maintain power over the powerless, and how that cycle can be interrupted at different stages so that people can experience new relationships of  healthy partnership and community. At first the powerful ignore the powerless and the powerless may internalize this deprecation. But when the powerless make their presence known (“Here I am”), or increase in numbers, the powerful notice and may feel threatened. In the power cycle, the powerful systemically move from ignoring to trivializing. If the powerless refuse to accept such trivialization and claim their voice, the power cycle may escalate to ridicule and finally to eliminating the powerless through dismissal, exclusion or even annihilation. Here we will see how this power cycle is currently in use in the United States in regard to immigrants and particularly undocumented immigrants.

People come to the United States from other countries seeking better lives and work to provide for their families. Most of the time these people are completely ignored. Unless one is an immigrant or is directly impacted by their presence in one’s life, one wouldn’t even be aware of them. These are the people picking tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, and probably just about any other fruit or vegetable that is mass produced in this country. How many people who eat these things actually think about where they come from or who was involved in providing them with that food? Many refugees and immigrants are also able to find work cleaning in hotels or working in restaurants. How many people acknowledge those who clean their rooms? When was the last time any of us thought about who was actually doing the cooking or washing the dishes? These are not glamorous jobs, but the United States would be a very different country without them.

When ignoring the thousands of immigrants who are here is no longer enough, people with power trivialize the powerless. Even the system currently in place to make judgments in immigration trials trivializes people. Often people petitioning to remain in this country are granted 6 more months here without deportation until their next court date, but no work visa. What kind of work can one obtain without a work visa or citizenship? Work that most people born in this country are unable and/or unwilling to do.

When ignoring or trivializing the thousands of immigrants who are here is no longer enough the powerful begin to ridicule them by blaming them for all the problems in our society, such as drugs, murder, and gangs. These things are “all the fault of people born outside of this country.”

In the power cycle, at any point there is opportunity for the powerful to welcome the powerless and to form new healthy relationships. Unfortunately, if that does not happen, fear of the immigrant increases, especially if their numbers grow. Right now, this country is in the midst of an elimination of immigrants. People are being deported and separated from their families every day. Many in this country do not even realize this is happening, but it is. When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains people, the agents do not even have to tell families where the individuals are being taken. If a name is misspelled when ICE agents enter it into the system, the family may never be able to find their loved one, especially if they do not know the individual’s Alien Registration Number. In 2008, agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raided a slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa. Some of the children rounded up in this raid were taken to California, and today there are still parents looking for their children.

It terrifies me to think about the many times in history when similar things have happened. No one wants to think that such a thing is possible in their own country, until it happens. At that point, so much damage may have been done that there appears there is nothing one can do to stop it. In the midst of a fearful time such as this, the call to walk with those being oppressed is a challenge—a persistent challenge.

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