WESTFIELD, NJ — A half dozen activists seeking guarantees against deportation of those brought illegally into the United States as children were arrested at U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance’s office on Feb. 5, the latest in a series of protests at the lawmaker’s district headquarters.
The six, comprised of religious leaders and their followers, were among a group that demonstrated outside the North Avenue office, demanding Lance’s support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
DACA was an executive order introduced in 2012 by former President Barack Obama, granting temporary protection from deportation and permission to legally work to those brought into the United States illegally as children.
In September, President Donald Trump announced he would phase out the order, halting any new exemptions and granting six months for Congress to enact a law before deportions could begin.
The Feb. 5 protest demanded Lance support “clean DACA,” one which would grant the exemptions without attaching it to any other legislation. The activists, for example, didn’t want it tied to other immigration laws or government spending measures.
Trump and Republicans in U.S. Congress have called for funding for a border wall, an end to bringing immigrant relatives to the United States and an end to the immigration lottery as necessary in any new legislation regarding immigration.
Kristen Peck, a congregant of Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, was among the six arrested.
Peck told LocalSource in a Feb. 8 phone interview that approximately 150 people had protested outside of Lance’s office, but only six had entered it.
“A letter was read from the people inside the office who were there to support clean DACA,” Peck said. “After reading the letter they (the office staff) asked us to leave, but we were there to ask Lance for a promise and his support.”
“We would not leave until we had that commitment,” Peck said. “We need a clean piece of legislation that is unencumbered, and not connected to bargaining.”
The small group later assembled in a corner of the office where they sat in a circle to sing, chant and pray, Peck said.
The group was arrested shortly after the office closed
and Westfield police charged the six protesters with defiant trespass.
Others arrested included: John Rogers, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Montclair; Nedia Morsy, an event organizer from Make the Road New Jersey; Ann Ralosky of Montclair; Rabbi Elliot Tepperman of B’nai Keshet and Rabbi Faith Dantowitz of B’nai Abraham in Livingston. After the incident, Lance’s office offered to schedule a meeting with the protesters in either New Jersey or Washington, but the offer was declined.
“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,” Lance spokesman John Byers told LocalSource in an Feb. 9 email.
“We have met with him twice formally” in the past, Morsy told LocalSource on Feb. 6. “Every time, (Lance) opens his door to his constituents,” but the issue lies in “his inconsistency in statement,” she said.
“He endorsed RACA, Recognizing America’s Children Act, and his commitment to ‘DREAMers,’” a term is used to represent DACA recipients, “but then he was not condemning of Trump’s immigration plan,” Morsy added.
Currently, Lance is one out of 35 co-sponsors for Recognizing America’s Children Act, an alternative to DACA that provides children of undocumented immigrants — who pursue higher education, military service or work — to apply for five-year “conditional status” followed by the ability to reapply for a five-year “permanent status.” It also allows the government to deport or remove the legal status of anyone on the program who doesn’t stay employed or in school.
Aside from immigration issues, Lance’s district office has been a hotbed for other protest activity, with local organizations, such as Westfield 20/20 and Moms Demands Action for Gun Sense in America, protesting there frequently.