Woman who sought sanctuary in Springfield church to return home

(Western Mass News photo)

The city of Springfield has won a battle in court over the inspection of a sanctuary church, which is offering a place to live for a Peruvian woman facing deportation.

The city was told on Monday it needed a warrant to inspect the church.

Now, it has that warrant, according to city officials.

Gisella Collazo and her two children have been living in the South Congregational Church for a week and a half after seeking sanctuary there.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno told Western Mass News that the city is going ahead with legal action to inspect the church for any housing code violations and pursue stripping the church of its tax exempt status after being told on Monday inspectors could not enter the church without a court warrant.

"We're pursuing that now through the court system and it's unfortunate it's gotten to this point, but it's purely based on the letter of the law. That's what taxpayers expect our city employees to do - uphold the law," Sarno explained.

The city said it had a previous agreement with the church to inspect on Monday.

The church has denied any agreement was made.

"It's not that we're not allowing the inspectors in. There is protocol, it's that they call and make an appointment as they always do. If they do so, we'll make the appointment with them. If they show up without an appointment, we will ask for some other reason they're showing up without an appointment," said Assistant Minister Louis Mitchell with South Congregational Church.

In June, the church announced it would be a sanctuary church.

The city said at that time it had serious health and safety concerns for any kind of congregate living arrangement in the church.

The church said it passed an annual city inspection in August.

Mitchell told Western Mass News that the church is doing what it feels is right in the case of the Peruvian woman facing deportation.

"We're called as a church to provide sanctuary in this time. It's a time honored tradition. Churches have done it. It's within our First Amendment rights to do so. We are a church, we're not a city. We're not pretending to make Springfield a sanctuary city. We are being the sanctuary God has called us to be," Mitchell noted.

While the city moves forward with legal action to inspect the church, the Springfield City Council is scheduled, on Monday, to take up an order that calls for city employees not to interfere with the mission of the church and stay out of the church.

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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