KENOSHA — Parishioners of Emaus ECLA Church in Racine may have wondered why student pastor Betty Rendon wasn’t at the pulpit last Sunday — Mother’s Day. A mother herself, Rendon was in the Kenosha County Detention Center after being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Rendon was arrested on May 8, reportedly outside of her home in Illinois. Emaus parish officials received a text message that read “No voy a la iglesia, ICE vino a mi casa” which translates to “I’m not going to the church, ICE came to my house.”
“That was it,” said Pastor Mary Janz of Emaus Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “We didn’t know anything more about that.”
The church did not know where Rendon was or what exactly happened to her but eventually someone discovered she was at the Kenosha County Detention Facility, 4777 88th Ave.
Racine Interfaith Coalition has scheduled a prayer vigil at the Kenosha County Detention Center at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The Journal Times had not received a comment from ICE Tuesday night.
Rendon had been preaching at Emaus for roughly the last three months while she studied for her doctorate degree from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
Stephanie Mitchell, a professor at Carthage College and a parishioner at Emaus, decided to visit Rendon when she learned about the situation last Saturday.
“She’s my pastor and my government kidnapped her; of course I wanted to see her,” Mitchell said. “She’s done such wonderful things for our church.”
Mitchell asked Rendon what happened and, according to Mitchell, Rendon said ICE officials stopped her daughter, who is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, while she was driving her 5-year-old sister, who was born in the United States, to school.
According to Mitchell, Rendon said that despite her daughter’s DACA status she was handcuffed and armed ICE officials drove back to their house and arrested Rendon, her husband and one other individual.
Mitchell said the daughter and 5-year-old were released.
According to Mitchell, Rendon said ICE officials allowed her to make arrangements for child care for the 5-year-old girl, and it was during that time that Rendon sent the text message to church officials.
“This was a carefully planned raid that involved a lot of heavy-duty police force, multiple police vehicles, maybe 20 police officers, all of them armed as though they were invading a space where there was some kind of dangerous criminal,” Mitchell said. “Instead it was an ELCA pastor and her family going about their ordinary daily business.”
With nobody home after the arrest, Mitchell said the house was not locked or the door was not secured, and as a result items were taken from the home.
Mitchell said Rendon did not know Mitchell was coming when she arrived at the detention center, but Rendon was ready with instructions for people to call and other next steps to help Rendon and her family.
But the arrest was weighing on Rendon.
“She was really shook up,” Mitchell said. “I’ve never seen her shook up. I’ve also never seen her without lipstick; the officials took her in her pajamas and they wouldn’t let her get dressed.”
Issues with legal status
Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod said Rendon was a “candidate approved for ordination” but could not be ordained until she had legal status in the United States.
“She was caught in this in-between time,” Erickson said. “She’s a good preacher and she was filling in as kind of an independent contractor … but she was helping out, preaching some Sundays at Emaus in Racine.”
According to Mitchell and Lanz, Rendon has been trying to receive asylum for several years and was recently rejected. After she was arrested, Rendon moved to appeal the decision.
Emaus has been struggling to have regular full-time pastors at the church in recent years, and Erickson said Rendon was sent there to help with the church’s situation.
“She was able to be very much a healing presence in that congregation,” Erickson said. “I was grateful for the fact that she was able to step in and help out.”
Had Rendon received some sort of legal status, Erickson said, she likely would have been ordained.
“She was trying to figure out a way that she can serve as a pastor in our church and unfortunately until her immigration status was resolved, we just weren’t able to help her find a position and have her be ordained in our tradition,” Erickson said.
Erickson said he was surprised when he heard the details of the arrest.
“We really think that the behavior of ICE in this case was particularly egregious, and it may be by some stretch of the imagination lawful, but it’s hardly just,” Erickson said. “Betty has been an asset to every community that she has been a part of.”