Woman from Peru seeks sanctuary at Springfield church

(Western Mass News photo)

A woman has taken sanctuary inside of a Springfield church to escape immediate deportation.

Gisella is the mother of two young children and has lived in the area for nearly two decades.

It was last summer when church leaders at South Congregational Church in Springfield announced they would be willing to house people threatened with deportation.

Now, many months later, a local woman has found sanctuary there.

"Is it reasonable to remove a mother from her children because of paperwork? I think that’s a provocative question," said Rev. Jason Seymour with the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield.

A Springfield mother, Gisella - the mother of two American-born children and the wife to an American citizen - has lived in the United States for nearly two decades as a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen.

Now, facing deportation, Gisella has taken sanctuary inside of a Springfield church.

She arrived in the U.S. in 2001, fleeing poverty in Peru.

During a check-in with immigration officials two months ago, Gisella learned she had until March 27 - Tuesday - to return to Peru.

"She’s been here 17 years. She started doing agricultural work when she arrived here. She’s also worked in factories. She does have a work permit because on her path to her status and being married to an American citizen, that’s one of the initial processes to adjusting status," said Tara Parrish with the Pioneer Valley Project

Gisella’s two children, ages 10 and 4, were born in the U.S., but will be joining her in sanctuary at South Congregational Church.

“They’re young children and they don’t want to be away from their mom," Parrish added.

The church announced its plans to offer sanctuary in June 2017.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is opposed to the decision, and Monday, offered his opinion on Gisella’s new home, writing in a statement:"Well their recruitment efforts have paid off for them in defiance of the edict that we are not a sanctuary city. As stated prior in June 2017, our city's code enforcement inspection and public safety teams upon visit deemed the church property unsuitable to house individuals/families under the state's sanitary code. They are in violation of building and housing codes and proper non-taxable use of their property. Our city inspection teams will be notified. I am disappointed that they would use and exploit this family for their own causes. Now, I am not a cold-hearted person and do have compassion for the family in question, but there must be a clear path to American citizenship, whether it's this case in Springfield or in other parts of our country. Being first generation, it's simply not fair to all those immigrants, including my parents, who played by the rules and followed the legal immigration path into America."Seymour told Western Mass News that he hopes people can remember that this is about a family.

“This issue so easily becomes dehumanized that when you actually listen to the people at the center of these things, and you say what does it mean to be a parent? To try to bring children into this world? We’re seeing that in a variety of different issues right now, of how we protect families," Seymour added.

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

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