WESTFIELD, NJ — Six protesters, including Rabbi Elliot Tepperman of West Orange and three of his fellow clergy members, were arrested on Monday after holding a sit-in at Congressman Leonard Lance’s office in Westfield to support “Dreamers,” according to Westfield police.
Tepperman, a rabbi at B’nai Keshet in Montclair, was charged with defiant trespass alongside Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz of Livingston's B'nai Abraham in Livingston, Rev. Ann Ralosky and Rev. John Rogers of Montclair's First Congregational Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit member Kristen Peck and Make the Road New Jersey youth leader Nedia Morsy after refusing to leave the congressman’s office after it closed, according to police. All six are residents of Essex County.
“It was ‘worth it’ to get arrested because this is a way to amplify our message,” said Dantowitz. “We want Congressman Lance to stand up for a clean Dream Act. There are not two sides to this. He needs to stand up for justice and stand against white supremacy, xenophobia and hatred."
She added that she was grateful to be able to “stand up for justice” and that she was inspired by the emotional testimonies of the “Dreamers.” Dantowitz said she felt “surrounded by a loving and supportive community gathered at the rally of faith leaders, activists, immigrants and ‘Dreamers.’”
“My ability to engage in civil disobedience was an act of moral obedience,” she said. “This was my first arrest and I’m proud to be an outspoken advocate for justice as I put my faith into action.”
In all, about 100 protesters stood outside the Westfield office on Monday afternoon to demand that Lance publicly support a “clean” DREAM Act (one without expanding funding for the proposed $25 billion wall and without ending the diversity visa lottery or family reunification programs). They also demanded that he publicly denounce President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, according to Sara Cullinane, director of Make the Road New Jersey, an Elizabeth-based organization that advocates for immigrants.
Cullinane said that the six who were arrested for trespassing knew there was a good chance that they would be arrested.
“They read their demands and stayed in the office and chanted and were eventually arrested when they did not leave,” said Cullinane.
John Byers, spokesperson for Lance’s office, said that the office had offered to schedule a meeting with the congressman—even though he does not represent Montclair—in either New Jersey or Washington, D.C., at a time mutually convenient to both parties, but that their offer was ignored.
“Congressman Lance has great respect for our state clergy and is happy to meet with the congregation at a time that is mutually convenient for both parties as he has done with other religious leaders and groups on numerous occasions,” said Byers.
Rep. Lance is a cosponsor of “clean” legislation concerning DACA recipients – H.R. 1468, Byers said. He also supports bipartisan solutions to break the impasse over DACA, including the Problem Solvers’ proposal supported by a group of 48 lawmakers split evenly by party, according to Byers, and Lance and New Jersey Democratic representative Josh Gottheimer are both members of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
Archange Antoine, executive director of Faith in New Jersey, a network of faith leaders and faith communities, said the organization encourages its clergy leaders to “step out on faith and fight against all injustices that deprive our families of basic rights and liberties.” Dantowitz, Tepperman, Rolasky and Rogers are members of this network
“In New Jersey, we have seen time and time again that it is people of faith who are resisting evil policies and who are trying their hardest to help dismantle institutions of hate,” said Antoine. “We are thankful for the brave clergy leaders who placed their bodies on the line to be arrested for the sake of standing with those who will lose their DACA status and will soon be targeted by law enforcement.
“These are our sisters, our brothers, our friends and members of our community. These are the children and people of God who were made in the image of God.”