On the morning of Wednesday, May 8, 2019, 26-year-old Paula Hincapie Rendón was driving her 5-year-old daughter to school when she was pulled over by an unmarked car three blocks from her Englewood, IL home. She was stopped by Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. They told her they were looking for her but didn’t explain why. Hincapie Rendón was handcuffed and put inside another vehicle. With her crying daughter still inside, eight armed ICE agents drove her car to her parents’ South Side Chicago home. She thought they were simply taking her daughter to her parents’ house. When they arrived, Carlos Hincapie-Giraldo, the 60-year-old father of Hincapie Rendón, was outside the house and about to leave for work. He was arrested by the ICE agents. Inside the house, Carlos’ wife and Paula’s mother, Pastor Betty Elena Rendón Madrid 53, a part-time pastor at an Evangelical Lutheran church in southern Wisconsin, was in her pajamas making breakfast. She was arrested. A cousin who was staying at the house was also arrested. They were sent to ICE detention in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
After ICE took Paula Hincapie Rendón and her parents into custody, a relative went to the house to pick up Paula’s daughter. Paula was released a few hours later after establishing she was protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA defers the deportation of those who were brought to the U.S. as children. It allows these undocumented people to remain in the United States and work legally. When Paula returned home, she found two strangers inside the house. They fled with items taken from the home.
Paula’s parents (known as Betty Rendón and Carlos Hincapie) remained in ICE custody. ICE did not explain why Paula’s parents were targeted or why they were detained. In a public statement, ICE noted that it “conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy” and as ICE Director Thomas Homan has stated “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.”
Diana Rashid, with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago and the attorney representing the Rendón/Hincapie family, said it wasn’t “uncommon for immigrants to be pulled over for what they think is a traffic violation but is actually for ICE enforcement purposes.”
After Pastor Rendón was detained, the Evangelical Lutheran community in Wisconsin and Illinois joined immigrant rights groups and held vigils, provided letters of support, and organized news conferences to increase public awareness of the case. Paula pleaded publicly for the release her parents, as she is a single mother who relied on them to help take care of her daughter.
The couple was sent to two different detention centers in southern Illinois, making it difficult for family and others working on their behalf to visit. On May 23, attorney Rashid filed for a stay of removal for both Rendon and Hincapie. The request included petitions signed by more than 15,000 people and 65 letters of support from community organizations. The following day, ICE informed Rashid that the stay was denied. On Memorial day weekend, ICE transferred Pastor Betty and her husband Carlos to a Louisiana detention center in preparation to deport them to Colombia.
On Tuesday May 28, the couple was placed on an airplane and deported to Colombia.
Betty Rendón came to the US from Colombia in 2004, during Colombia’s civil war, after her life was threatened by guerillas for not allowing them to recruit students at a school where she was the principal. Several teachers at the school were also assaulted. Rendón and her family settled in Miami and in 2006 filed for political asylum, citing those threats. The application was denied in 2008, due to the lack of a police report on the attack. Rendón appealed the ruling, but it was upheld, and ICE issued a removal order in 2009.
Around the same time the family moved to Chicago so Rendón could study to become a pastor. She completed the process to become a pastor through the Lutheran church but wasn’t able to be ordained because of her immigration status. Prior to her detention she was serving as a temporary pastor in Racine, driving more than two hours to preside over Spanish-language services. She was scheduled to start her Ph.D. studies in June at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. The Sun-Times wrote that the family “maintained spotless criminal records” with local law enforcement.
Rendón was not alone in the early 2000s when she and her family asked for asylum. Cases by Colombians peaked in 2003 with 4,651 Colombians filing asylum claims. From 2001 to 2019, 25,364 Colombians filed asylum claims; 8,970, or less than half, were granted.
The abrupt deportation of Betty Rendón will separate the couple from their daughter Paula Hincapie-Rendon, their five-year-old grand-daughter, and the life the family built over the last 15 years in the United States. Paula has said that “our family is heart-broken” and that her daughter “cries for her grandparents.” Whenever grand-daughter sees a police car, the she asks “if she is going to be taken away.”
According to figures released by ICE in March, the agency arrested 34,546 people from October to December 2018. Like Rendon and Hincapie, more than a third had no criminal record and were “contributing members of their communities.”
SOURCES: From the Voces de la Frontera website and Chicago Tribune by Elvia Malagon at https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-met-pastor-ice-immigration-deportation-chicago-20190523-story.html.