ICE Deports Lutheran Pastor To Colombia Despite Church’s Protests

A Lutheran pastor who was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during a raid on her Chicago home earlier this month has been deported to Colombia, the agency confirmed to HuffPost. 

Betty Rendón-Madrid, a part-time minister with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and her husband Carlos Hincapie-Giraldo, were both placed on a plane to their native country on Tuesday, according to an ICE spokesperson.

The couple had lived in the U.S. for 15 years, after fleeing guerrilla violence in Colombia, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center, a Chicago-based advocacy group. Rendón-Madrid and her husband were arrested at gunpoint during a raid on May 8 and held for the past few weeks at ICE detention centers.

The deportation makes it likely that they will be permanently separated from their 26-year-old daughter Paula Hincapie-Rendón, a DACA recipient, according to Bishop Michael Rinehart, leader of the ELCA’s Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod. The Trump administration has made it harder for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients to travel overseas and return legally to the country. 

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“This is our immigration policy at its very worst: separating families, denying asylum to those seeking refuge from violence, and deporting contributing members of our communities with spotless criminal records,” Rinehart wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “What have we become?”

The Rev. Betty Rendón-Madrid was a part-time minister at Emaus ELCA in Racine, Wisconsin.

Rendón-Madrid shared reflections of her time in detention on Facebook Wednesday.

“Each person has felt violently attacked by ICE, whether because [agents] entered violently in their home or [they] were attacked at their place of work, in the street or in their car,” she wrote. “The prisons seem like purgatories where you can only hear weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

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Rendón-Madrid posted a photo showing what she said were bags ICE prepares for people being deported. The pastor said her bags contained letters from her supporters and some medicine. She said she believes it is necessary to create a ministry in the Colombian consulate that provides a better welcome to deportees who arrive in the country without money or clothes and “with a broken heart.” 

Rendón-Madrid’s former parish, Emaus ELCA in Racine, Wisconsin, and the wider denomination has been rallying around the pastor’s family ever since they heard she had been detained. Joining with local immigrant rights groups, the church has held vigils and protests, started a letter writing campaign and organized a GoFundMe page to help with the family’s legal and living expenses. 

The National Immigrant Justice Center, which has been providing legal representation for Rendón-Madrid and her husband, filed a request with ICE asking for a stay of removal. The petition included letters of support from more than 65 organizations. The Milwaukee-based immigration rights organization Voces de La Frontera also launched an online petition asking ICE to release the couple.

ICE declined to comment on these petitions from the pastor’s supporters.

The couple’s request for asylum was rejected in 2008 because they didn’t have police documentation of the threats against them, according to Emaus ELCA.

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On the day of the deportation, Rendón-Madrid’s former school, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, held a prayer vigil in honor of the pastor. Rendón-Madrid had planned to start a doctoral program in preaching at the school this summer.

At the vigil, Paula Hincapie-Rendón, the couple’s daughter, said her parents had been her main support as a single mother to her own daughter, a 5-year-old girl named Layla. Hincapie-Rendón said that ever since the raid on their home, Layla has been terrified of police cars. The child is afraid the police will take her mom away, like the authorities who took her grandparents away.

“Everything happened so fast and now we are heartbroken,” Hincapie-Rendón said. “They are separating our family. A family must always be together.” 

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