CHICAGO (RNS) — Lutherans are speaking out and gathering in prayer after a student pastor at a church in Racine, Wis., was arrested last week by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Betty Rendón, who came to the United States from Colombia, was arrested by ICE on May 8 after her application for asylum was rejected. Rendón is a lay minister in the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, according to the denomination’s presiding bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton.
An update on the Emaus ELCA Church website said she was arrested along with her husband; her daughter, who is a DACA recipient; and a cousin who was staying with the family at their home in Chicago. ICE later confirmed in a statement Rendón and another woman were arrested.
On Twitter, Eaton called for people to attend a prayer vigil Wednesday evening (May 15) for Rendón and others held at a detention center in nearby Kenosha, Wis. She also asked them to contact their representatives and senators.
And the Rev. Paul Erickson, bishop of the ELCA’s Greater Milwaukee Synod, said the student pastor’s arrest may be “legal, but it is immoral.”
“I would certainly imagine that we have better ways to use our governmental resources than targeting a family who has, to my knowledge, been a blessing to every community that they’ve ever been a part of. We’ve got a broken system, and the sharp edges of that brokenness are now being felt by those who are most vulnerable among us,” Erickson said.
Rendón has been preaching at Emaus for the past three months while studying for her doctorate at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, according to Erickson.
She fled Colombia when guerrillas attacked the school she directed there, according to the update about her arrest on Emaus’ website.
Her application for asylum in the U.S. was rejected because there was no police report documenting the attack, according to the post. She had exhausted her appeals and was issued an order of deportation, though it never was executed, it said.
ICE’s statement said she was ordered removed from the country by a federal immigration judge on May 22, 2008, and the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld that order the next year.
“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,” the church said.
Rendón’s daughter later was released from ICE custody and reunited with her own 5-year-old daughter, who was present during the arrests, according to the church update. She is barred from being deported under DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, it said.
Rendón remains in ICE custody “pending her removal to Colombia,” according to ICE.
Immigration long has been an important issue to the ELCA.
“There is a deep passion in our communities certainly for immigrants and refugees because it resonates with our own story,” Erickson said. “It also is a simple way for us to live out our faith that we care for the least among us and the most vulnerable in our midst.”
The bishop pointed out that many American Lutherans arrived in the country just a few generations ago as immigrants from Northern Europe.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service was established around World War II as the church worked to resettle immigrants and refugees from war-torn Europe. In 1998, the ELCA’s church council issued a social message on immigration, noting that, “Our country’s history exhibits an ugly strain of exclusionary attitudes and policies toward newcomers who differ from the majority.”
And a decade ago the church council passed a resolution recommitting the denomination to “join with others in seeking compassionate, just, and wise immigration reform.”
“We’ve got to find a healthier way to live as God’s people, as Americans,” Erickson said.
“This is not just a faith issue. This is an American issue. This is not who we are as a people, stirring up fear and being punitive in this way.”
This article has been updated.