Two Pittsburghers were arrested Wednesday during a national protest of 100 Jewish activists in support of “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children and are now being threatened with deportation as a result of changing immigration laws.
Tammy Hepps, a chief technology officer with a local healthcare company, and Joshua Friedman, a cycling coach, were among 82 activists arrested at the protest on Capitol Hill as they sang in Hebrew and English and listened to messages of how the Jewish community should align themselves with issues facing immigrants.
“As Jews, we draw inspiration from our own immigration story to put our bodies on the line to protest young immigrants from being deported,” Hepps, 39, and a member of Congregation Beth Shalom, said. “Who more than the Jewish people know what happens when people don’t stand in solidarity when other people are being persecuted?”
The protesters were encouraging Congress to include a clean DREAM Act — legislation which would offer protections to “Dreamers” — in the government funding bill that Congress must pass before Jan. 19 to avoid a government shutdown. The DREAM Act has been an increasingly debated topic in Congress since President Donald Trump announced in September he would be removing protections for “Dreamers.”
The president has since said he would be open to reserving some of those protections as long as other immigration reform is implemented. Congress has been grappling with coming to an agreement, divided on issues such as funding for a border wall and allowing chain migration, where immigrants can bring members of their family to the United States.
“The action wasn’t necessarily intended to target the members of Congress, but to show other people, the ‘Dreamers,’ that they have support, and have other people be moved to action,” Friedman, 37, and a member of congregation Beth Shalom, said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
The organizers drew inspiration from the Sabbath reading that coincided with the protest, flipping the coin on the reading of Exodus in which Moses demands “let my people go” and chanting “let my people stay.” As they chanted and sang, they also listened to short speeches from clergy and spiritual leaders, giving the protest the feeling of a “collective prayer,” Hepps said.
One story that stuck with her was that of a 20 year-old Jewish student at Brandeis University who came from Venezuela with his mother when he was about five years old. His mother later passed away and the young boy didn’t realize he was an undocumented immigrant until he tried to get his driver’s license.
“There’s a Jewish element here,” Hepps said. “Not just one of empathy but of actual people, Jewish people like ourselves. They just came to America at a later time…As American Jews, we need to use our story as a source of empathy.”
The protesters occupied a Senate office building for about ten minutes before Capital police began issuing warnings. It took police an hour to arrest the protesters, Friedman said. Both Friedman and Hepps were issued a $50 fine. PJC
Lauren Rosenblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.