The morning of May 8, 2019, Paula Hincapie was taking her 5-year-old daughter Layla to school when an unmarked van pulled her over. It was ICE. The dreaded Immigration and Custom Enforcement. The agents handcuffed Paula. With she and her young daughter in the back seat, they drove her car back to the home where she lived with her parents, Carlos Hincapie, a construction worker, and Betty Rendón, a theology student who had just started as the student pastor at Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine.
Paula was supposed to be protected from deportation. She has had DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, since 2015. DACA is the program created by President Barack Obama in response to pressure from the immigrant rights movement that provides two-year renewable work permits and protection from deportation to Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
When Paula told the ICE agents she had DACA, one of them told her, “you have no rights.”
When the ICE agents got to their house in Chicago, ICE agents saw Paula’s father Carlos in the driveway, as he was about to leave for work. They grabbed him and shoved him into their car. Then, guns drawn, they broke down the family’s door. They handcuffed Pastor Betty, who was still in her pajamas, and searched the house until they found Carlos’ cousin, who was a house guest. ICE arrested him as well. Paula’s daughter cried the whole time.
These past few weeks have been full of threats from President Donald Trump to further escalate raids targeting families who have sought asylum in major cities. But what happened to the Rendón family shows that this escalation had already begun in cities large and small and in rural areas
The Rendón family came to the U.S. in 2004, seeking asylum from the civil war in Colombia. Rebels had sought to recruit child soldiers from among the students at a school in Colombia where Betty Rendón was the principal. After she refused to let them recruit at her school, threats from the rebels forced the family to flee to the United States. The family lost their asylum case in 2009 on a bureaucratic technicality, but under enforcement priorities put in place by President Obama in 2011, in response to pressure from the immigrant rights movement, ICE was directed to not target families like the Rendóns for deportation.
But driven by Trump’s racist and xenophobic agenda, ICE arrested Paula, Pastor Betty, Carlos, and Carlos’ cousin. On that day in May, ICE released Paula but ordered her to report for a check-in at the ICE office in Chicago, ominously telling her to find childcare for her daughter and to get her travel documents in order.
Voces de la Frontera quickly organized a press conference outside of the ICE office in Chicago and a community delegation to accompany Paula to the check-in, including Lutheran leaders and professors from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where Pastor Betty was a doctoral student. The delegation included representatives from many community organizations and religious leaders from many denominations. If not for this pressure, ICE would likely have deported Paula and separated her from 5-year-old Layla. Instead, ICE rescinded their order of supervision and released Paula.
Over the next three weeks, prayer vigils were held for the family in Wisconsin and around the country. Over 65 organizations signed a petition urging ICE to not deport the Rendóns. ICE and the Trump Administration rejected these efforts, and deported Pastor Betty, Carlos, and Carlos’ cousin to Colombia on May 28, 2019.
Right now, the country is in an uproar over the inhumane conditions in the camps where ICE and the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) is imprisoning children who have sought asylum. Caging children, deporting pastors, detaining DACA recipients — these are efforts to normalize abuses against a group of people that Trump and other white nationalists consider inferior. Trump is testing us — all of us — to see how far they can go.
The phrase “never again” is in the air. There is a recognition that prior to World War II, not enough people recognized the threat soon enough, or united fast enough, to challenge the underlying conditions that allowed fascism to take power. In light of this past, we must fight and build a massive movement against these abuses.
To do that, we must challenge our current elected officials to oppose any funding of ICE and CBP. Most recently, the U.S. Senate voted on June 26 to provide $4.6 billion to ICE and CBP, with no accountability provisions to ensure that those funds went to improving conditions in the camps. Progressives in the House, including Wisconsin Democratic Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan, voted against this massive giveaway to ICE, arguing that the new Democratic House majority must use its power of the purse to rein in ICE and CBP’s abuses, and to protect the rights of the children and asylum-seekers who are suffering and dying in the agency’s inhumane detention camps. Disgracefully however, our U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin voted in favor of this massive, no-strings-attached giveaway to Trump’s worst henchmen, and moderate Democrats in the House joined with Republicans to pass the bill the next day. We need Sen. Baldwin to fight for Wisconsin values, and to not go along with the establishment politics that have led to this dangerous moment.
In the past few weeks, many people have reached out to me asking what they can do. I say: Be a part of this movement.
Organizing is about channeling our collective values into effective action. Come out to the protests and vigils that are happening across the country demanding the closure of these concentration camps —and N.Y. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right, that is what they are. Call Baldwin and urge her to use her power to cut funds to ICE and CBP, to defend the rights of families like the Rendóns and to free the children, families and human beings seeking asylum from these squalid camps. Become a member of Voces de la Frontera and come to our monthly membership meetings for our chapters across Wisconsin. Come to one of the town hall meetings we are likely holding in your city as part of our Defending Families, Restoring Driver Licenses for Immigrants statewide tour. Support our effort in Milwaukee to pass policies to ensure that the Milwaukee Police Department does not collaborate with ICE in the separation of families. And get ready to vote and to urge others to vote in 2020.
So again I say, organize. We are at a crossroads. We can make transformative change, to not only reject Trump’s abuses, but to remedy the underlying conditions that have led to this moment. More people are waking up to the injustice and inhumanity of our country’s immigration system. I believe we are actually closer now to creating a system where all people — not just the rich — can cross borders with dignity, fully integrate into a new society with their families and have their rights protected. We will abolish ICE and CBP, we will tear down the walls and close the concentration camps and we will repeal the laws that have criminalized immigrants.
Join us. Be part of our movement. Visit vdlf.org for more information about our upcoming events.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz is the founding Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera, a low-wage and immigrant workers center with chapters in 10 cities across Wisconsin. Voces de la Frontera is increasingly recognized as Wisconsin’s leading immigrant rights organization. Voces’ student arm is called Youth Empowered in the Struggle.