Montclair clergy arrested during Dream Act protest at congressman’s office
By ERIN ROLL
Three Montclair clergy were among six people arrested during a rally and protest calling for an extension of the Dream Act.
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet and Revs. Ann Ralosky and John Rogers of First Congregational Church were participating in a protest outside of Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7)’s office in Westfield. The goal of the protest was to call on Lance to publicly declare a commitment to supporting the Dream Act.
The Dream Act provides legal protection to people who were brought to the United States as young children.
“I’m feeling well, appreciative of the many emails and expressions of support that we’ve received from this effort,” Tepperman said during a phone interview on Tuesday.
“I’m good. I’m fine. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the outpouring of support,” Ralosky said Tuesday. “It’s been really amazing to hear all the words of support that have been coming out.”
The event was organized by Make the Road New Jersey, Faith in New Jersey - an ecumenical clergy group which includes several Montclair clergy - and several other labor rights and social justice groups.
“Not only do we need to hold these elected officials accountable but [we need] to defend the very soul of this nation, to demand that we land on the right side of history - on the side of justice, dignity and respect for all our comunities,” Make the Road New Jersey organizer Nedia Morsy said in a statement released late Monday.
Tepperman said that the group believed that Lance would do the right thing in supporting the Dream Act extension. “But so far he hasn’t.”
“We knew that if we continued to call for a commitment from the congressman, it was a possibility,” Ralosky said of the prospect of getting arrested. She said that even though she has attended many rallies and demonstrations in her work as a pastor, it was her first time getting arrested.
And while the experience was somewhat anxiety-inducing for her, Ralosky said that it was minor compared to what people impacted by the Dream Act experience on a regular basis.
The event began at 3:30 p.m. outside Lance’s Westfield office with speeches, songs and prayers, as well as testimonials from Dreamers.
At 4 p.m., six of the protesters, including Tepperman, Ralosky and Rogers, went into Lance’s office and read a letter calling for the congressman to issue a statement in support of the Dream Act.
Lance’s representative said that Lance would be able to make time to meet with the group at a later date, but the group said that they wanted a clear commitment from his office at that moment. “So we ended up staying until the office closed,” Tepperman said.
At 5 p.m., the office staff called the police, and the group was arrested.
Tepperman said that the group was treated respectfully while they were in police custody.
John Byers, a spokesperson for Lance's communications office in Washington, D.C., issued this statement Tuesday: "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."
The six protesters all have a follow-up court date of Feb. 20.
“We are profoundly moved by the opportunity to take this field of action,” Tepperman said. “The story of being vulnerable, of being an immigrant, being a second-class citizen, is something that Jews have experienced repeatedly, and for some of us, in our family’s recent memory,” Tepperman said.
First Congregational posted a photo of “the Westfield Six,” after they had been released from police custody, on the church’s Facebook page.
Ralosky said that First Congregational would continue with its work in helping people in need, and to continue working with other houses of worship on sanctuary aid projects.
“The next step is what the previous steps have been,” Ralosky said.