On May 15, ELCA members and the Racine (Wis.) Interfaith Coalition called for just immigration reform at an evening prayer vigil held outside the Kenosha County Detention Center.

ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod Bishop Paul Erickson spoke at the vigil, which the coalition organized to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detainment of Betty Rendón and others in her family. Rendón, an alumna of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (2013), had been serving as a student pastor of Emaus ELCA, Racine, prior to her May 8 arrest.

“We gather in prayer, filled with anger, concern and love for all our neighbors who happen to be refugees and immigrants in our midst,” Erickson declared at the vigil. “Betty and her family are refugees, having fled violence and almost certain death had they remained in their homeland of Colombia.”

Though the U.S. government had denied Rendón’s asylum application and sent an order for deportation, it had not been acted on, he told Living Lutheran. Erickson noted that Rendón’s daughter is a DACA recipient and her 5-year-old granddaughter was born in the U.S.

“It is wrong for our government to engage in efforts that tear families apart,” Erickson said. “Immigrants and refugees make up the very core of who we are as Americans. This is not who we are as Christians; we are called to work to bring about the healing and restoration of society.”

Just, humane immigration reform that keeps children and families together is a priority of the ELCA. The 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly affirmed this stance when it approved the Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) strategy. AMMPARO calls the whole church—congregations, synods and the churchwide organization—to assist migrant children and families fleeing humanitarian crises in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The ELCA lives out this commitment through ministry alongside its global companion churches in Central America and in the U.S. More than 131 congregations now serve as welcoming congregations, said Mary Campbell, AMMPARO program director, and several members across the U.S. are court advocates through the ELCA’s Guardian Angels program.

Campbell said Rendón’s case is “one of the many horror stories happening in the communities as part and parcel of the administration’s strategy to create a climate of fear.” She urged ELCA members to take action by joining the AMMPARO welcoming congregation network, signing up to become a Guardian Angel, and advocating for children and families affected by violence in Central America.

On May 16, ELCA Advocacy issued an action alert calling on members to contact their lawmakers and speak out against immigration policies and enforcement that tear families apart: “[Rendón] is caught in the current administration’s immigration deterrence strategies which when implemented can have misguided and inhumane impact. The [AMMPARO] strategy calls instead for the U.S. government to keep families together while investing in programs that address the root causes of migration.”

Although ELCA members have differing political opinions, Erickson said our faith unites us in concern for the well-being of God’s children who are migrants and refugees. Referencing Rendón’s situation and the plight of other migrants, he said: “This is literally a life or death issue. … I hope our church can be part of a movement that brings about healing and reconciliation.”

Manuel Gallardo, a member of Emaus for 14 years, said Rendón’s arrest shocked the congregation. “It’s been a very difficult time for us,” he said at the vigil. “We’re very thankful that so many people showed up, we never thought that so many people would come from so many places. … We’re with her and God listens to our prayers.”

Erin Strybis
Erin Strybis is a freelance writer based in Chicago and author of The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years (Morehouse Publishing, March 2023). Find more of her stories at her website and on Instagram.

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