Facing Deportation, Peruvian Woman Takes Sanctuary At Springfield, Mass., Church

Mar 26, 2018

A Springfield, Massachusetts, church is offering sanctuary to a Peruvian woman facing deportation, along with her two American-born children.

Reverend Tom Gerstenlauer is the senior minister of South Congregational United Church of Christ. At a press conference Monday, he said the church stands with the woman, identified by the Associated Press as Gisella Collazo, "as an act of faith in the face of injustice."

"We will make every effort to provide hospitality to this family," Gerstenlauer said. "They may remain for as long as is needed, in order to obtain relief from threats to their family, their home and their civil rights."

Collazo is married to an American citizen and has been in the U.S. for 17 years. She was told she had to return to Peru by Tuesday.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said Springfield is not a sanctuary city, and added that he will notify city inspectors of the church's action. His statement Monday:

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.

Last year, a city letter said health and safety concerns inside the church building would bar any living arrangements.