A mainline Protestant denomination is rallying around a minister facing deportation after being arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week.
Betty Rendón is a part-time minister at Emaus ELCA, a Lutheran church in Racine, Wisconsin. ICE agents handcuffed the 53-year-old seminary graduate in her pajamas and held her at gunpoint during a raid of her Chicago home on May 8, according to her church.
Emaus ELCA belongs to the nationwide Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Rendón is currently being detained at Wisconsin’s Kenosha County Detention Center, the Racine church said.
The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the 3.5-million-member ELCA, is urging congregants to pray for the pastor ― and to get in touch with their congressional representatives.
“Contact your US representatives and Senators now,” Eaton tweeted on Tuesday.
The Rev. Paul D. Erickson, bishop of the ELCA’s Greater Milwaukee Synod, told HuffPost that Rendón’s detention has caused significant concern among parishioners.
“Not only has it required a bit of scrambling to find preachers for Sundays ― many are angry and fearful,” Erickson said.
The ICE raid targeted the pastor, her husband Carlos Rendón and one other relative, according to a Facebook post by Emaus ELCA. Her 26-year-old daughter, Paula Hincapie, was also arrested during the raid ― even though she is protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides deportation relief to undocumented youth who arrived in the U.S. as children.
According to the church’s account, the arrests that split up the Rendón family began last Wednesday, as Hincapie drove her own 5-year-old daughter to school from the family’s home in Chicago. The agents allegedly pulled Hincapie over, handcuffed her and took over the wheel of her car ― ignoring Hincapie’s protests that she is a DACA recipient. Once outside the Rendón home, ICE officers “violently” shook and shoved Carlos Rendón and ordered him to open the doors of his house, the church said.
The agents then entered, “brandishing their weapons and pointing them at the family,” the church said. They arrested Betty and Carlos Rendón and one other relative who was staying in the house, the church said, while the 5-year-old granddaughter “screamed and cried.” The officers allegedly refused to let Betty Rendón change out of her pajamas but allowed her to arrange child care for the granddaughter. In the midst of the commotion, the pastor also sent a short text informing the church that she would likely not be able to preach on Sunday, the church said.
“Pastor Rendón was particularly struck by the celebratory tone of the officers,” Emaus ELCA wrote on Facebook. “They were jubilant because they had managed to arrest so many people in a single raid.”
ICE spokesperson Nicole Alberico confirmed to HuffPost that agents had arrested the pastor, her husband and her daughter. Betty and Carlos Rendón remained in ICE custody as of Friday this week. Alberico did not provide any information on the fourth family member the church claims was arrested.
Alberico said that an order of supervision issued for Hincapie on May 8 was rescinded on May 15 “upon additional review and verification” of her DACA status. Alberico said the order was canceled by ICE officers using their “discretionary authority.”
Hincapie’s lawyer, Chicago attorney Christopher Elmore, told HuffPost that an ICE deportation officer told him DACA “is discretionary,” such that “the arresting officer used his discretion to disregard Paula’s DACA, and then the ICE deportation officer used his discretion to abide by DACA.” Elmore called that interpretation of DACA protections “ludicrous.”
“As public servants working for a law enforcement agency, ICE employees are held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct,” an agency official said in a statement. “Incidents of misconduct are treated with the utmost seriousness. When substantiated, appropriate action is taken.”
Betty Rendón, her husband and her daughter have been living in the U.S. since 2004, according to Elmore. Her church says she fled her home country of Colombia due to violent conflict in her neighborhood. Guerrillas attacked a school she was in charge of and assaulted several of her teachers, the church said. Rendón applied for asylum in the U.S. but was eventually denied because she lacked an official police report, the church said.
ICE told HuffPost that a federal immigration judge ordered Rendón, her husband and her daughter removed from the country on May 22, 2008, and that the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the removal order the next year.
Over the years, Betty Rendón became an active member of the ELCA. She received a master’s degree in divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in 2013. School spokesperson Jan Boden told HuffPost that this means she is prepared for ordination. She can’t officially be ordained until she has legal status in the U.S., Boden said.
Since March, Rendón has been serving as a part-time “synodically authorized minister” at Emaus ELCA, which allows her to preach and preside over the congregation. She has become a regular presence at the church on Sunday mornings, Erickson said, and has “helped the congregation during a time of transition and conflict.”
Emaus ELCA hosted a prayer vigil Wednesday evening outside the Kenosha Detention Center, attended by church members and interfaith clergy. Holding signs reading “Who would Jesus deport?” and “Free Pastor Betty Rendón!” the protesters listened to music, heard sermons and prayed together. Erickson anointed the detention center with sacred oil to symbolize that “there is no place that God’s light cannot enter,” he said.
“We wanted to reclaim that space, the detention center, as a place where God’s presence is also known,” the bishop said.
The church is working with Chicago’s National Immigrant Justice Center to see if there’s a way to pause Betty Rendón’s deportation order, according to Erickson. In the meantime, he is encouraging people to send letters and cards to her at the detention center “so she can know she is not alone.”
Boden, from the Lutheran School of Theology, said Rendón was planning to start a doctoral program in preaching at the school this summer.
“This incident brings into painful focus the ongoing need to reform this country’s racist, violent, and inhumane immigration system,” the school wrote on Facebook. “We add our voices to the chorus of prayers and laments offered at this time, and ask for God’s mercy and justice to prevail where human efforts have failed.”
This article has been updated with additional comment from ICE.