Corvallis UMC pastor arrested in peaceful protest outside ICE in Portland


Corvallis First United Methodist Church pastor Barbara Nixon was one of three clergy from different faiths arrested outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office building in Portland during a peaceful protest on Tuesday.

Nixon was detained by officers with Homeland Security and charged with two crimes, disobeying a federal officer and disrupting the peace on federal property. She was cited and released Tuesday afternoon.

The arrests came as a result of clergy and other people of faith continuing to protest the federal government’s continued detention of 123 asylum seekers at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon.

“How we treat the stranger – the immigrants among us - says so much about who we are and what we value. 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,” Nixon said. “Like each of you from the many faith traditions here, there is no greater call on my life than to love: love not being how I feel, but rather how I choose to behave.”

Nixon said since the zero-tolerance policy of President Donald Trump’s administration was announced, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice in Oregon has been working tirelessly to keep the spotlight on the men imprisoned at Sheridan. All of these men are asylum seekers who have passed their “credible threat interviews” that qualify them to see an immigration judge about their requests for asylum, but that appears to not have happened so far.

Nixon said IMIrJ has been trying to get the attention of Elizabeth Godfrey, acting field director of ICE in the northwest United States, because reports are that these men have been treated deplorably while remaining in federal custody. According to immigration lawyers who have been taking their statements, the men have been exposed to improper diets, cramped conditions and no respect for religious practices and concerns.

Last week Nixon said she and other clergy – after flooding the office with phone calls and emails – walked to the entrance of the ICE office with letters that explained their positions. They were denied access to  Godfrey.

“(Tuesday), we returned to the ICE office with a request to deliver the same letter in person or speak with Ms. Godfrey on the phone.  The letter was taken from us by – someone- who promised to let us know about a call.  No one ever returned to the door, even when we paged the call button repeatedly,” Nixon said. “This failure to respond led three of us, in the presence of a supportive cloud of witnesses, to sit down in front of the gates to the interior of the ICE Building.  Rev. Michael Ellick, Rabbi Deborah Kolodny and I were pretty quickly arrested by very kind, almost reluctant Homeland Security Police. We were handcuffed, cited with two federal charges, driven to the Homeland Security Offices and released.”

Nixon said she has been amazed by the media response to this simple action.

“Apparently it has been a long time since clergy have taken a lead in an effort like this in our state. Our hope was to focus attention on the plight of imprisoned immigrants in our state and say loudly ‘Let our people go!’” she said. “We believe we succeeded. But, of course, the work is not done.”

Nixon said she was thankful for the opportunity to speak out on Tuesday and risk arrest, because it was grounded in love and trust of her family, church and those who gather to do this work.

“I am reminded of a verse from 2 Timothy: God does not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self discipline,” she said. “Let us work together in that spirit.”

Rev. Lowell Greathouse, coordinator of mission and ministry for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church, issued a statement of support on behalf of Nixon’s work and subsequent arrest.

“In troubling, unjust times, it frequently takes acts of courage and compassion on the part of some people to help a community discover its own conscience and sense of justice. Oftentimes this responsibility falls to leaders in the religious community to do so in peaceful, non-violent ways,” he said. “Rev. Barbara Nixon has done this consistently throughout her ministry. As we continue to witness the unjust treatment of the 100+ asylum-seeking immigrants who have been detained at the Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution, Rev. Nixon remains a prophetic voice in our midst, challenging us all to consider what kind of people we want to be as Americans.”

You can read Nixon's entire statement on this process on her Facebook page.