As of Friday, May 24, Pastor Betty Rendón de Madrid, student minister of Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine, WI, has been slated for deportation to her native Colombia by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). To address this injustice, members of the community at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (where Rendón was to begin a Doctor of Ministry program in preaching) are coming together for a vigil and press conference on Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at 6 p.m. The presiding bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, is slated to be one of the speakers.
A Family Torn Apart
On May 8, Pastor Betty, her husband Carlos Carlos Hincapié, a relative, and their daughter, Paula Hincapié, were all swept up by ICE agents at gunpoint in their Chicago home. Paula is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Despite Paula’s protected status, it was the intention of ICE to arrest and deport her until public light was brought to her case.
According to a press release by Voces de la Frontera, Paula’s 5-year-old daughter, Layla, witnessed the entire home raid take place and was traumatized by the experience. “She cries for her grandparents, wondering when they are coming home,” said Paula. “Layla is now afraid of the police which she associates with ICE. While I am grateful to be reunited with my daughter, our family is not whole until my parents and Layla’s grandparents, who Layla calls ‘Abu’ and ‘Lito,’ are home with us.”
Support and Advocacy
Pastor Betty and Carlos remain in ICE detention at Pulaski County Jail in southern Illinois and are represented by attorneys from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) through the City of Chicago’s Legal Protection Fund. Since the couple’s arrest, more than 65 organizations have submitted letters of support through the Emaus Evangelical Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin, where Betty is a student pastor. More than 13,000 people have signed a petition requesting that ICE halt the couple’s deportation to Colombia and release them from detention.
“Pastor Betty and her family’s experience highlights the actual implementation and consequences of the Trump administration’s ‘shock-and-awe’ plan to arrest and detain thousands of families in major cities across the U.S.,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera. “The fact that this attack is against a Dreamer, a Pastor, and an entire family in a militaristic style operation demands that the American public and people of all faiths unite to protect this family and prevent the further implementation of the Trump Administration’s continued campaign to terrorize and separate immigrant families.”
Reverend Paul Erickson, Bishop of Greater Milwaukee Synod, ELCA said, “I’m extremely disappointed that our government would choose to use their powers in a way that sows fear and tears families apart. We are calling on our leaders to adhere to a higher law, one that respects the right of individuals to flee from violence and honors the dignity of each person.”
Some have argued, however, that because Rendón’s request for asylum was denied in 2009, she was living in this country illegally and should be deported.
Yet what many do not understand is that the required police paperwork documenting the threats to Rendón’s life were impossible for her to obtain. This left her in an no-win situation. She chose to protect her family and risk deportation rather than return to a country wracked by guerilla warfare and violence. In the years since her arrival, she has been a law-abiding resident of this country who has made a positive contribution to the community in which she lives and pastors. If an undocumented resident has proven themselves to be a contributing member of society, why not create a path to citizenship?
But others have insisted that Rendón’s case should not merit any special attention just because she is a pastor.
“I don’t see why this family’s situation is any different than that of any other family who is facing similar deportation. Whether she’s a pastor or not shouldn’t make a difference,” said one commenter in a Facebook post.
But this is exactly the point. The fact that Rendón is a pastor makes this case particularly heinous. This move is emblematic of the Trump administration’s intention of targeting peaceful immigrants and refugees who are not “murderers and rapists,” but are, in fact, educated, contributing members of society.
It also highlights the hypocrisy of Trump’s claim that he wants educated, successful people to be allowed into this country. That is, of course, bogus. She was a model citizen, a pastor who ministered to her congregation and community. What more could we want from a person who has striven to give back to the country that she hoped would give her sanctuary?
“But isn’t it an exaggeration to say that she was targeted because she was clergy?”
Think about it like this. Imagine a Jewish neighborhood in Nazi Germany seeing their rabbi’s house ambushed, watching him get arrested, and seeing him sent away. Having one’s spiritual leader targeted like that not only strikes fear in the heart of the community, it shakes their faith, and diminishes their morale. I’m not saying there is an exact equivalence between Nazi Germany and what’s happening under the Trump Reich (yep, I said it), but viewing this through a sociological lens reveals the other layers at work here.
“But this is just one isolated case, isn’t it?”
I think we would be foolish to dismiss this as just another deportation. Is this one isolated case? Perhaps. Or is it a strategic move on the part of this administration? Whether or not more clergy will be arrested, the Rendón case strikes a nerve for those who are part of faith communities – and even those who are not. And rightfully so.
There is documented evidence that the Trump administration is targeting peaceful, law-abiding persons who have sought refuge in this country. Those who are working with these targeted communities believe that this is part of a larger strategy to create fear.
Arresting a pastor who was ministering to an immigrant population and who was herself an asylum-seeker is a bold and provocative move. It’s meant to send a message. Her community will look at her case and say, If even a pastor can get arrested, what hope is there?
This arrest and planned deportation has crossed a line.
It’s ripping apart not just a family, but a community of faith. The church is right to step up and advocate for one of their own. Whether you are a person of faith or a secular citizen concerned about human rights, your voice is needed.
UPDATE: Pastor Betty and her husband Carlos Hincapie were deported on May 28. Financial support is still needed for Rendón’s family. Visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/68tfv-10000 to make a donation.
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).