Montclair residents, clergy protest child separations at border
By ERIN ROLL
The separation of children from their parents at the United States border has prompted protests from groups and houses of worship in the Montclair area.
Since April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been separating children from families crossing the United States-Mexico border. About 2,300 children are believed to have been separated from their parents and either held in detention centers or sent to live with foster families, with some in New Jersey.
President Trump issued an executive order calling for an end to the separations, but critics of the order have pointed out that the order does not address how to reunite children with their families, among other concerns.
Rebecca Burch organized a march and rally from Rand Park to Church Street on Saturday, June 23.
“I was, like many other people, feeling upset and distraught and angry and helpless,” Burch said of her reasons for planning the march.
Burch quickly mobilized, reaching out to several groups over Facebook, including NJ 11th for Change, Mobilizing Montclair and Montclair Mommies and Daddies and obtaining a permit, processed on Thursday, two days before the march.
Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and her mother was born in a refugee camp.
About 100 people showed up, including many families and their children.
Drivers honked their horns and gave thumbs-up to the rally as they passed by. But a few said rude things, Burch said.
She and her family plan to participate in a Families Belong Together march on Saturday, June 30.
The rally wasn’t the only action taking place in Montclair over the past week. An interfaith vigil known as the Hour of Action took place at Eagle Rock Reservation the evening of June 24, with congregations such as Bnai Keshet and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair participated among other groups.
And on June 27, Bnai Keshet was the venue for Borders from the Heart, where New Jersey-based writers read from works reflecting on the immigrant experience. The event is a fundraiser for the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, of Bnai Keshet, and the Rev. Ann Ralosky, of First Congregational Church, are among a group of six clergy and activists arrested for protesting at Rep. Leonard Lance’s office in Westfield in February. They requested that Lance commit to taking official action supporting the Dreamers or children who had been brought to the United States as young children.
The Westfield Six, as they have come to be known, were supposed to appear in court on Tuesday, June 19 over the February arrests. However, the prosecutor in the case was not ready to present, so the pre-trial hearing and the trial were pushed back to a later date.
Tepperman, Ralosky and the others had been prepared to make statements during the trial about their reasons for protesting at Lance’s office. Even with the trial put off to another date, the group held the press conference anyway. “We have the moral imperative to speak truth to power with love, because it is all about creating a country founded on the love of our brothers and sisters,” Ralosky said when it was her turn to speak.
“You know what? We are willing to go back as many times as it takes,” Tepperman said, when asked if the group was frustrated over the length of time it was taking to get the legal proceedings heard.
There has been a lot of discussion among the congregation about what has been happening, Tepperman said.
“But when we talk about taking a child out of his or her mother or father’s arms, we don’t need the Torah to tell us that’s wrong,” he said. “It’s bad enough that children who grew up in this country were being threatened with deportation. At this moment, when we see children being separated from their parents, we knew what the next steps would be.”
The family separation have been met with massive public outcry, both from across the United States and from around the world. At least eight states have recalled or withheld their National Guard personnel and resources from the border, and 17 states, including New Jersey, have filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the separations.