Paula Hincapie-Rendon, 26, did everything she thought she was supposed to.
In 2015, a decade after she and her parents fled Colombia’s bloody civil war, Hincapie-Rendon applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Hincapie-Rendon was granted DACA status in 2015 and again in 2017. DACA protects certain undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children from deportation and allows them to obtain a renewable, two-year work permit.
But on the morning of May 8, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested her a block away from her house in Englewood.
Hincapie-Rendon said she was taking her 5-year-old daughter to school when an unmarked car pulled her over. Two agents approached her car and told her to get out. She asked them to identify themselves three times, but they refused. On the fourth try, they answered.
“Finally they said, ‘You have an order for deportation, and we’re taking you downtown,’” she said.
Hincapie-Rendon asked if she could take her daughter back to the house and leave her with her parents. The agents obliged, with one caveat — they would be driving her car while she sat in their van, handcuffed.
“My daughter was crying so loud in the back seat, scared and confused,” she said.
Once at the house, agents found Hincapie-Rendon’s dad, Carlos Hincapie, leaving for work. They arrested him on the spot. Agents then went into the house and arrested Hincapie-Rendon’s mom, Betty Rendon, a Lutheran minister who was set to start her doctorate at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in June. Agents also arrested Hincapie’s cousin, who was staying with the family.
The agents drove the family to ICE’s field office in the Loop. The agency released Hincapie-Rendon that same afternoon under an order of supervision.
When Hincapie-Rendon made it back to Englewood, her house was being burglarized. “They took everything — TVs, my parents’ marriage rings, money, my dad’s tools,” she said. “They took a lot of stuff.”
She filed a police report but hasn’t heard anything from the investigation.
Hincapie-Rendon’s parents and her dad’s cousin were taken to an ICE facility in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. They are being held at the Pulaski County Jail in Ullin, Illinois, and face deportation to Colombia.
“I feel they used me as an excuse to get my family. They tricked me,” she said.
Hincapie-Rendon and her parents fled Colombia in 2004 after guerrilla rebels threatened to kill Betty Rendon, then a school principal in the city of Pereira, for preventing them from recruiting her students.
The family’s asylum applications were denied in 2009, and they were ordered deported. Since then, Hincapie has worked in construction, and Rendon became a minister at a Lutheran church in Racine, Wisconsin. Neither has criminal records in Cook County.
Under the Obama administration, ICE was told not to prioritize families like Hincapie-Rendon’s, even if they had final removal orders on the books.
Things changed when President Donald Trump took office.
Figures released by ICE in March show 36.5% of immigrants detained by the agency in December 2018 had no criminal record — the highest monthly figure since ICE started categorizing arrests in 2012, as reported by USA TODAY. During Obama’s last month in office, 17% of immigrants arrested by ICE agents had clean criminal records.
As of Monday, a record 52,400 immigrants were detained in ICE facilities, BuzzFeed News reported. In February, Congress funded ICE to detain an average of 45,000 immigrants a day through September, but the average daily population topped 46,000 earlier this month.
At a check-in with ICE on May 15, Hincapie-Rendon’s lawyer, Christopher Elmore, asked why his client was detained but didn’t get a clear answer.
Elmore said the agent who released his client told him that ICE has discretion over detaining individuals, even if they have DACA status.
The agent said “the arresting officer used his discretion to arrest her, and that he was using his discretion to release her,” Elmore said.
In a statement, an ICE official said “Hincapie-Rendon was encountered as part of a targeted enforcement action” and “upon additional review and verification” of her DACA status, the agency “exercised its discretionary authority and rescinded its order of supervision.”
Hincapie-Rendon said she’s relieved she won’t be deported but is afraid of what lies ahead.
“I’m working full time now at Home Depot — which is good, but I wish I had someone who could take care of my daughter so I could work more,” she said. “I’m really overwhelmed. I’m going to miss my family. This will be the first time being by myself. We’ve always been together, as a family.”
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times’ coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.