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Springfield, Mass., City Council Moves To Protect Woman Taking Sanctuary

A special City Council meeting in Springfield, Massachusetts, would have centered around a vote that could bar city employees from interfering with a church's offering sanctuary to Gisella Collazo was postponed.
Don Treeger
The Republican / masslive.com/photos
Gisella Collazo in the kitchen of her residence in South Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she's taken sanctuary.

The Springfield, Massachusetts, City Council on Thursday proposed an order that says no city employee should interfere with South Congregational Church in providing sanctuary to a woman from Peru. 

The order quotes the Massachusetts Constitution, saying, “No law shall be passed prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”

It continues: “South Church has a religious mission of working towards and fostering social justice, and as an essential part of that religious mission is providing sanctuary to a wife and a mother subject to a deportation.”

In response to the city council's proposal, Mayor Domenic Sarno said that his administration will continue to make sure federal laws are upheld locally.

The woman who took sanctuary, Gisella Collazo, is facing deportation. She was told by immigration officials to return to Peru by Tuesday, March 27. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Collazo entered the country illegally 17 years ago using a fraudulent passport.

Collazo is now married to an American citizen, and has two American-born children. The children took sanctuary in the church with her.

Earlier this week, Sarno criticized the church for defying an edict that Springfield is not a sanctuary city. He ordered city staff to review how to strip the church of its tax-exempt status, and also ordered the church be re-inspected for possible code violations. 

Sarno’s full statement on Thursday is below:

First of all, like many others, I fully believe in and support legal immigration. Again, our city’s stance is based on the law and local, state and federal regulations and statutes on public health, safety, housing and property tax assessment. My administration has a fiduciary responsibility not to jeopardize potentially millions of dollars of federal funding our city utilizes to continue to enhance all our citizens and business community, by becoming a sanctuary city. I urge our federal government to come up with a plausible concrete solution to this issue and stop dropping it in the laps of municipal government. To that, my administration will continue to move forward to make sure these laws are adhered to – our city employees and officials are only doing their jobs, which is what our taxpayers expect.

City Councilor Melvin Edwards, who represents the ward where the church is located, said he's not sure whether the proposed City Council order could even be enforced.

“I don’t know how valid the order would be, and I don’t really understand the necessity of it,” Edwards said. “I don’t believe the city has the authority to do anything other than inspect the church and make sure that it was in compliance.”

Edwards said he thinks Sarno and city councilors are being "theatric" rather than rational about the issue.

The City Council plans to vote on the proposed order during a special meeting on Tuesday, April 3 at 4:30 p.m.

Sean Teehan contributed to this report.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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