Last Wednesday night, I gathered with ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod Bishop Paul Erickson and a couple hundred clergy and community members outside of the Kenosha Detention Center for a prayer vigil.
That morning I found out that ELCA Synodical Minister: Pastor Betty Rendón, her husband, nephew, and daughter were arrested and detained on May 8. Pastor Betty and her family were active members at one of my congregations before she took a call at Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine, WI earlier this year.
Pastor Betty’s daughter – who is legally protected by DACA – was eventually released to be reunited with her daughter. Pr. Betty, her husband, and nephew are still detained.
Emaus Lutheran Church released a statement on facebook explaining what took place the day of the arrest:
“Reverend Betty Rendón is a part-time 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 doing that, she managed to send a short text to the church to inform us that she would likely not be able to preach on Sunday. Pastor Rendón was particularly struck by the celebratory tone of the officers. They were jubilant because they had managed to arrest so many people in a single raid.
Pastor Rendón’s daughter was eventually released from custody and allowed to reunite with her daughter because, in fact, there was no legitimate reason to have arrested her in the first place. The other three family members were taken to the downtown facility in Kenosha, where they were strip-searched and processed. When they left, the ICE officers failed to secure the door, which allowed robbers subsequently to enter the home, ransack it, and steal all items of any value. A neighbor called the police, and there is a police report documenting the robbery.
The family came to the United States originally because Pastor Rendón was once the director of a school in Colombia during the war. The guerrillas attacked her school, assaulting several of her teachers. She applied for asylum in the US, but was eventually denied due to the lack of a police report, although she says everyone in the area knew of the attack. Once her appeals were exhausted, she was issued an order of deportation, but it was never executed. We are at a loss to explain why ICE should have decided to execute it now, just as Pastor Rendón is beginning her doctoral studies in preaching at the LSTC in Chicago.”
When I read this statement, I was filled with anger and was absolutely horrified to hear about the abusive treatment that Pastor Betty and her family received when ICE arrested and detained them! I cannot even comprehend the amount of trauma this has and is causing the family, including Pastor Betty’s 5 year-old granddaughter. She needs her grandparents. Her mother needs her parents. Pastor Betty and Carlos need their daughter and grandchild.
Families belong together.
Just because something is our “law” does not make it right and just. Just because something is enforced by our legal system does not mean it should be. (All we need to do is look at our country’s history of enforcing laws that implemented genocide, slavery, segregation, and unequal treatment of women and minorities to remember this clear fact.)
And as Christians, when we see laws that oppress and marginalize others, we must call them out and work to dismantle and reform them.
Our country’s immigration system is broken.
Although we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we are choosing to devastate and separate families rather than to welcome and embrace them. We are targeting parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends and rounding them up in their homes at gunpoint like they are animals. We are violently arresting and detaining them in front of their children and deporting them back to places where violence and poverty will traumatize and even potentially kill them.
This does not make our country great! It makes it despicable!
Pastor Betty and her family first came to this country as refugees, seeking safety from violence in Colombia. (Yet, they were never granted refugee or asylum seeking status). Our country has long been a place of refuge for immigrants and refugees seeking a better life for their families. My ancestors only came to this country because they – too – were immigrants seeking a better life. Anyone who lives in this country and is not of Native American and indigenous peoples descent or a descendent of persons who were forcefully brought here as slaves, is a descendant of immigrants or refugees.
And in Christianity, we come from a long-standing tradition that calls us to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
As Leviticus 19:33-34 states: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
In Zechariah 7:9-10 we hear: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
And as Jesus – who was born to refugee parents – declared: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35, 40)
As Christian clergy and people of faith, we must strongly condemn the arrest and detainment of Pastor Betty, her husband, and her nephew and demand they are immediately released and granted a stay of deportation. And we must also strongly condemn the arrests, detainment, and deportation of other individuals and families who are here seeking a better and safer life for themselves and their families. While Pastor Betty and her family have a strong community of faith who are supporting her and raising awareness about their situation, most families at risk of detainment and deportation go under the radar. We must continue to show up for and with these neighbors of ours, advocate for them, and offer them the support that they need.
For, as we hear Jesus calling out to us. “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Please consider supporting Pastor Betty, her family, and other families in similar situations in the following ways:
1. Funds to help Pr. Betty, her husband, and nephew with legal aid and other expenses:
Emaus ELCA Good Samaritan Fund
1925 Summit Ave
Racine WI 53404.
Checks should be designated to Rendón Family Fund.
Or donate here.
- Click: “Electronic Giving” in the upper right hand of the page
- Make your entry in the “Good Samaritan” field and add: “Pastor Betty”
2. Funds that will go directly to Pastor Betty’s daughter and granddaughter to help with childcare, groceries, living expenses, and other basic needs:
Immanuel Lutheran Church
1500 W. Elmdale Ave.
Chicago, IL 60660
Checks can be made out to Immanuel Lutheran Church. Checks should be designated to Rendón Family Fund.
Or give online here.
- Make your entry in the “Pastor Betty Rendón” field
3. Cards and notes of encouragement can be sent to:
Emaus Lutheran Church
1925 Summit Ave
Racine WI 53404
*Update: Cards will no longer be sent to Kenosha Detention Center. Pastor Betty has been moved to a detention center in southern Illinois, and her husband Carlos and nephew Felipe have been moved to different detention centers. You can send cards to Emaus Lutheran Church (see address above), and they will send those cards to the correct locations.
4. Sign and share this petition on Faithful America:
5. Support organizations that advocate for immigration reform and offer legal support for people who are detained.
6. Show up for and with families who are detained and/or at risk of deportation. (Organize clergy and communities of faith to lead and participate in prayer vigils, rallies, and marches; offer financial and pastoral support; offer sanctuary to families, etc.)
7. Continuously call and write your elected officials calling for immigration reform.
Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in Chicago. Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.
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