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Protesting Faith Leaders Arrested After Blocking Driveway At Portland ICE Facility

Department of Homeland Security police have arrested three religious leaders who blocked the driveway entrance of the Immigration of Customs Enforcement building in Portland Tuesday.

The leaders blocked the driveway after attempting to deliver a letter to Acting Field Office Director Elizabeth Godfrey, demanding the release of asylum-seekers in Sheridan who passed  credible fear interviews.

Lawyers have said that detainees who have passed these interviews, which help determine whether an immigrant may be eligible for asylum, continue to be detained.

"How we treat the stranger — the immigrants among us — says so much about who we are and what we value," said Rev. Barbara Nixon, one of the leaders arrested. Nixon is with the First United Methodist Church in Corvallis.

"What is happening in our state, at Sheridan and elsewhere is, for me, the sad microcosm of what is happening throughout our nation — where fears of all kinds have interfered with the best, most loving possibilities of who we are," she said.

It's not the first time clergy have attempted to meet with Godfrey demanding the asylum-seekers' release. The group said they brought the same letter a week ago to the ICE building where they were told Godfrey was inside.

"We have no reason to believe wasn't delivered," said Rev. Michael Ellick, another leader who was arrested, with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.

On Tuesday, an ICE employee took the letter but would not say whether Godfrey was inside. 

DHS officers largely stood by while people gathered outside the ICE building and sang "This Little Light of Mine." Officers moved in after the clergy moved toward the driveway and sat down, blocking a car from entering.

For at least two months, 123 men have been held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan. Attorneys have said that nearly all of the men in Sheridan are seeking asylum and that the majority of them have not be criminally charged. 

The ACLU of Oregon and other advocates for the men have said it’s very unusual to house asylum-seekers in a federal prison, especially if they don’t have a pending criminal charges against them. Additionally, authorities at the border separated some of the men from their families. 

Even before President Donald Trump took office, there have been reported cases involving people who've passed credible fear interviews who remained in detention. Faith groups have set up support systems for the asylum-seekers upon their release.

"We must remind our government that any policy that would separate children from their parents, or lock up innocent asylum seekers, that these things run in direct opposition to the sacred plan that sustains all life, and we will keep God’s promise to those beaten down by the unjust policies of the powerful," Ellick said.

"Today in word and in deed we remind ICE Field Director Elizabeth Godfrey that there is only one way to resolve this: let our people go."

In an email, an ICE spokesperson said it's ICE policy that detainees who pass credible fear interviews are detained "for further consideration" of an asylum application.

"Only in limited circumstances and on a case-by-case basis, should an alien be released from custody for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit," said Carissa Cutrell, a public affairs officer with ICE.

"In these cases, an alien must establish their identity through government-issued identity documents and not pose a security or flight risk."

Another spokesperson with ICE would not confirm or deny whether Godfrey received the faith leaders' letter. 

<p>Rev. Michael Ellick gets arrested by DHS officers after blocking the driveway entrance of the ICE building in Portland Aug. 7, 2018.</p>

Ericka Cruz Guevarra

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Rev. Michael Ellick gets arrested by DHS officers after blocking the driveway entrance of the ICE building in Portland Aug. 7, 2018.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Ericka Cruz Guevarra