On Wednesday morning, May 8, 2019, Betty Rendón, a Lutheran minister, was arrested along with her family when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided their home at gunpoint in Chicago. Rendón is a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America serving as a Synodically Authorized Minister at Emaus Church in Racine, Wisconsin. Pastor Rendón was beginning doctoral studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
Seeking asylum, targeted for deportation
The family fled to the U.S. in 2004 and applied for asylum after Rendón’s life was threatened during the civil war in Colombia. She was a principal at a school where guerrilla members threatened to kill her because she was opposing the group’s efforts to recruit students. Her asylum petition was denied, and ICE issued a removal order in 2009. The order was never enforced. Until this past week.
Rendón’s daughter, Paula Hincapie, was driving her five-year-old daughter to school from their home in Chicago. She was stopped by ICE officers who arrested and handcuffed her, despite her protests that she is legally protected by DACA and should not be a target for ICE. The agents drove them back to the house where Rendón’s husband, Carlos, was leaving for work. The agents apprehended him and ordered him to open the door of the house. They entered and handcuffed Rendón – still in her pajamas and making breakfast – and a cousin staying with them. Her granddaughter screamed and cried while the officers brandished their guns and arrested all the adults in the house. When they left, the officers failed to secure the door, and the home was subsequently ransacked and robbed.
As an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am outraged.
I join faith leaders and concerned citizens across this nation calling for this family’s immediate release. Trump’s escalation of this “shock and awe” policy that attacks and kidnaps families is unacceptable. Such tactics are reminiscent of those used by the Nazi’s Gestapo and Stormtroopers in rounding up Jews and other “undesirables.” Rendón and her family are no threat. She is a minister making a positive contribution to her church and her community.
‘Why come after her now?’
This is what church members and community activists have been asking. Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the Milwaukee immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, said during a news conference outside ICE’s Chicago office that the arrest of Rendón and her family is an example of the Trump administration’s intention to separate immigrant families. She said that Voces de la Frontera intends to fight to keep this family together.
After a protest and vigil outside the detention center, Rendón’s daughter was eventually released from custody and allowed to reunite with her daughter. The other three family members were taken to the downtown facility in Kenosha where they were strip-searched and processed.
Community faith leaders are now trying to petition for a stay of deportation.
“I think [the arrest is] having its intended effect, which is to cause fear,” said Bishop Paul Erickson of the ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod. “I don’t believe our country is strong when we base it on an attitude of fear and resentment against those who are different from us.”
In a statement to Religious News Service, Erikson said, “I would certainly imagine that we have better ways to use our governmental resources than targeting a family who has, to my knowledge, been a blessing to every community that they’ve ever been a part of.
“We’ve got a broken system, and the sharp edges of that brokenness are now being felt by those who are most vulnerable among us.”
Indeed. The laws regarding immigrants and refugees in this country are immoral. Arresting a pastor – a woman of faith who has demonstrated care for her parishioners and surrounding community – is crossing yet another line, moving our country one step closer to the rise of Trump’s Reich.
“First they came for the immigrant and we did not speak out—Because we were not immigrants. Then they came for the faith leaders…”
If you are a person of faith: now is the time to speak out.
If you are a person who cares about human rights: now is the time to speak out.
UPDATE: Pastor Betty and her husband Carlos Hincapie were deported on May 28. You can read about it here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ecopreacher/2019/05/pastor-betty-rendon-deportation-crossing-line/
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).