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Springfield Sanctuary Church Passes City Inspection


    City officials have found no cause to evict an undocumented immigrant who is being sheltered by a church in Springfield, Massachusetts against the wishes of the city’s mayor. 

   Inspectors from the city Thursday toured the two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of the South Congregational Church and found it to be in good condition, sanitary, and with working smoke detectors and the required number of exits and entrances.

   With the exception of a few “minor issues,”  the apartment where Gisella Collazo has been living with her two children for almost two weeks, passed the health and safety inspection, according to Springfield Code Enforcement Commissioner Steven Desilets.

  "Other than a couple of small violations," said Desilets.  " We have to look at the issue to make sure it is what it is that ( church officials) are claiming."

   The church will be notified, in writing, of the minor violations that include a window that would not open and a broken door lock, and have seven days to make the repairs, according to Desilets.

   "I think we can wrap this up in a couple of days. The violations that are there are pretty minor in nature," Desilets told reporters after the inspection.

   After members of the Springfield Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition announced on March 26 that Collazo had taken refuge in the church rather than be deported to Peru and separated from her American-born children and husband, Mayor Domenic Sarno ordered the inspection and a review of the church’s tax-exempt status.

" I not cold-hearted and I am a compassionate person. I would love to see something work out for this family," said Sarno who added, "But I can not and will not tolerate open season here in the city of Springfield. There are rules and regulations that have to be followed."

  An outlier among Democratic officials in Massachusetts who support the sanctuary movement, Sarno has stated he will “not stand for harboring and protecting” undocumented immigrants from deportation. 

  Following the release of the report on the church inspection, Sarno, in a statement, said the inspectors “have done their jobs and their report speaks for itself.”  

    The City Council plans to go ahead and vote Monday on a proposed order that directs city employees to not interfere with the church providing sanctuary to the woman.  Council President Orlando Ramos said he believes it is important for the council to go on record in support of the church’s right to shelter the woman.

  Six councilors at a news conference endorsed the proposed order written by Councilor Tim Ryan, who said the city should not be trampling on the rights of freedom of religion and expression.

  "It is clear the church is fulfilling its religious mission and I don't know how the city interferes with the church's fulfillment of its mission," said Ryan.  He said it is a mistake for the city to appear to be taking sides in the dispute between Collazo and the federal government over her legal status.

          " We should not be in this," Ryan said.

  Councilors Tom Ashe, Ken Shea, and Kateri Walsh have told the Springfield Republican they will vote against the proposed order because they believe it oversteps the council’s legal authority.

  Church leaders say Collazo is welcome to stay in the apartment for as long as it takes for her to obtain legal status.  

   Another Springfield resident, Lucio Perez, has been living for six months now inside an Amherst church as he fights deportation to Guatemala.



The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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