Betty Rendon and Carlos Hincapie arrived in the United States in 2004 after making the potentially live-saving decision to flee Colombia with their daughter during the country’s civil war.
On Tuesday, the couple landed back in Colombia after being deported by U.S. officials, who rejected pleas late last week to keep the family together.
A group of supporters gathered Tuesday evening for a prayer vigil at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, an Evangelical Lutheran seminary in Hyde Park where Rendon, a pastor, was set to start her doctorate next month.
Paula Hincapie-Rendon, the couple’s daughter, spoke of her and her 5-year-old daughter’s devastation.
“I’m really grateful for all of this help I’m getting because I felt like I was alone in this, and I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Hincapie-Rendon said. “With all this support, I feel like I’m not alone anymore.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Rendon and Hincapie on May 8 after the agents pulled over the daughter a block away from their family home in Englewood.
The agency released Hincapie-Rendon later that afternoon because she is protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. ICE sent her parents to an ICE facility in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and transferred them to the Pulaski County Jail in Ullin, Illinois, last week.
“They came into my house and took us into handcuffs like we’re criminals,” she said. “We’re not criminals. My mom is a pastor. My dad is a mechanic.”
Though Hincapie-Rendon is shielded from deportation, her DACA status does not allow her to leave the country, meaning she will not be able to visit her parents now that they have been deported.
Hincapie-Rendon said she has spoken with her parents only once since their arrest, when she visited them at the ICE detention center in Wisconsin and talked to them through a thick glass barrier using a phone.
Though she found out her parents arrived in Colombia and are with her uncle, she has not yet been able to talk to them and says she is worried for their safety.
The family fled Colombia’s civil war in 2004 after guerrilla rebels threatened to kill Rendon for not allowing them to recruit students of a school where she was a principal. They came into the United States with tourist visas and later applied for asylum, but their applications were denied in 2009.
Hincapie-Rendon said her daughter is now terrified of all police, unable to differentiate between ICE agents and Chicago police officers.
Speaking briefly in the chapel, Hincapie-Rendon’s daughter, Layla, said, “I want them back.”
Among those at Tuesday’s prayer vigil were Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and a group of five aldermen — Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th).
“We’re at a very difficult time in our country’s history when those who represent the worst of our responses to immigration lead our country,” Preckwinkle said. “And those of us who have a more expansive and inclusive view of what our country can and should be, struggle to support those like Paula and Layla and Betty and Carlos, who find themselves round up by our country’s unconscionable policies toward immigrants.
“We stand in solidarity with families like Paula’s and Layla’s,” Preckwinkle said, “But we also have to take action to try to be sure that more people don’t suffer the same fate as Betty and Carlos.”
Vasquez said he felt a “fire” inside him when he heard the news of Hincapie and Rendon’s arrest.
“It’s very difficult for me to think of anything but anger when we live in a nation that thinks of itself as united, and a city that thinks of itself as welcoming, when it’s not really,” Vasquez said.
Sigcho-Lopez, whose ward has a vibrant immigrant community in Chinatown and Pilsen, said it was “indescribable to hear the pain that this family has endured.”
“Nobody wants to leave their home,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Many people flee violence and terror just to find more violence and terror in another community.”
Contributing: Carlos Ballesteros