Rev. Betty Rendón, a part-time pastor at Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine, Wis., was detained by ICE last week at her home in Chicago.
In a Facebook post, Emaus Lutheran Church described how the detainment unfolded:
Betty Rendón is a part-time student pastor at Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin. Last Wednesday morning, Pastor Rendón’s daughter was driving her five-year-old to school from their home in Chicago. She was not two minutes from the house when she was stopped by ICE officers who admitted they were looking specifically for her. The officers arrested and handcuffed her, despite her protests that she is legally protected by DACA and should not be a target for ICE. The agents took the wheel of the car and drove them back to the house, where Pastor Rendón’s husband, Carlos, was leaving home for work. The agents shouted at him in English, which he does not speak well, shook him violently, and shoved him towards the car. They ordered him to open the door of the house. Once the door was open, they forced their way in. A group of ICE vehicles with numerous officers then converged on the house and poured inside, brandishing their weapons and pointing them at the family. Pastor Rendón was still in her pajamas. They did not allow her to get dressed, but handcuffed her as she was. Her granddaughter screamed and cried while the officers searched until they found their houseguest, a cousin, who had fled into the basement to hide. They handcuffed him as well. Having arrested all of the adults in the home, the officers allowed Pastor Rendón to phone the child’s other grandparents so that they could come collect her.
While ICE released Rendón’s daughter shortly after on an order of supervision, they processed the other adult family members into Kenosha County Detention Center.
In an email to Sojourners, an ICE official sent this as an explanation for the detainment of Rendón:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. However, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.
Rendón preached during Spanish-speaking services at Emaus, and had just begun pursuing doctoral studies in preaching at the LSTC in Chicago.
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rendón’s daughter Paula Hincapie explained that their family moved to the U.S. from Colombia after guerrilla soldiers threatened her mother, the principal of a school, for opposing their attempts to recruit students. The U.S. denied her application for asylum. According to ICE spokesperson Nicole Alberico, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) upheld an immigration judge’s removal order for Rendón in June of 2009. Now, 10 years later, ICE has moved forward with deportation proceedings, leaving her church community grieving and grappling for an explanation.
In response to these series of arrests, Racine Interfaith Coalition (RIC) held a prayer vigil on Wednesday night, attended by community members and clergy from across the region.
Stephanie Mitchell, a professor at Carthage College who is also a member of both RIC and Rendón’s church, spoke at the vigil. Referencing Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Mitchell spoke about how to discern the difference between just and unjust laws. She elaborated on this point during a phone interview with Sojourners.
“In a representative democracy, if our legislators are not legislating in accordance with the moral law that we’re given by God, then it’s really on us to select representatives who will legislate in accordance with that law,” she said.
Attorney General William Barr released a memo in mid-April stating that the U.S. will detain asylum seekers during and leading up to deportation proceedings. Advocates have initiated lawsuits to stop the memo from going into effect, but if those lawsuits fail, asylum seekers would have to develop their cases behind bars. Mitchell believes this process strips asylum seekers from their right to a fair trial.
“How are you supposed to find a lawyer — how are you supposed to gather evidence for your claim — if you can’t even tell your wife that you’re alive?” she said. “We need to end this nightmare not just for our pastor but for the hundreds of thousands of people who are caught up in this nightmare.”
Mitchell has seen this “nightmare” firsthand during her visits to the Kenosha County Detention Center, including her most recent visit with Pastor Rendón. She spoke of how jarring it was to see her pastor — who she describes as “a moral intellectual powerhouse” — in a prison suit.
This is not the first ICE raid in Racine, a city of nearly 80,000 residents. Last August alone, advocates held at least two rallies to raise awareness for what they perceive to be an uptick in arrests of nonviolent undocumented immigrants. Even with this background, members of the faith community said they were still shocked to learn about the arrest of the Rendóns.
After visiting Rendón in the detainment, Mitchell went to see her husband Carlos. He was shaken up and worried about his 5-year-old granddaughter, replaying the moment the ICE officers — guns drawn — went into her bedroom.
“How long is it going to take for this little girl to feel safe after these armed men come into her home and take her whole family away from her?” Mitchell said.
“The thought that I’m paying taxes so that we can inflict that kind of damage onto 5-year-old little girls — I can just hardly stand it.”