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Massachusetts mayor goes after church for housing illegal immigrant: 'We are not a sanctuary city

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Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is seeking to punish South Congregational Church for providing sanctuary to an illegal immigrant, who faces deportation. The woman, who came to America from Peru more than 17 years ago, is married to an American citizen, and has two children (ages 4 and 10). (Image source: WWLP-TV video screenshot)

A church in Springfield, Massachusetts, is providing sanctuary for an illegal immigrant, and the mayor is pursuing all legal options to punish the church for defying his declaration that Springfield is not a sanctuary city, WWLP-TV reports.

What’s the story?

Gisella is an immigrant who came to America from Peru more than 17 years ago. She is married to an American citizen, with whom she has two children (ages 4 and 10).

Gisella was set to be deported Tuesday, but on Monday she took shelter in South Congregational Church, a church led by the Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer. Gisella is hoping she can find a path to legal status because she is married to and the parent of American citizens.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno sent an email to city employees ordering them to explore whether the church is violating housing regulations by sheltering a family, and accusing the church of being "in defiance of the edict that we are not a sanctuary city."

“Please re-inspect the property in question for illegal housing aspects,” Sarno wrote in the email. “Also, please start the review process to strip them of their tax-exempt status.

“Please again pursue to the fullest extent of the law. Thank you and God Bless,” the email concludes.

Sarno argues that, since the church is now sheltering a family, it is no longer a house of worship and therefore has no right to tax-exempt status. At the same time, Sarno believes the church does not meet city code or have the correct permit to shelter people.

How did the reverend respond?

Gerstenlauer said he believes the city is trying to bully his church to be “unfaithful.” Still, he said he harbors no animosity toward the mayor, even inviting him to speak and worship at the church.

“I’m not cold-hearted. I’m a compassionate person,” Gerstenlauer said. “We understand that he is a man of faith, and we’d love to see the evidence.”

Gerstenlauer said the church has passed its annual inspection.

City councilman calls hypocrisy

Springfield City Council Member Adam Gomez accused Sarno of being a hypocrite for sticking closely to federal immigration laws while the city circumvents other federal laws.

“[Sarno] uses federal law as a reason for his callous rhetoric, yet the council just spent two hours with his administration ironing out details for recreational marijuana establishments that run afoul of federal law,” Gomez said.

Gomez also attacked the mayor for being so worried about separating an illegal immigrant from her family while other, larger problems plagued the city.

“Instead of sending code enforcement into this church, maybe he should direct them to the hundreds of other dilapidated structures and unsafe housing caused by absentee landlords in our city,” Gomez said. “Our city has more serious issues than to further separate families and hurt places of worship. I wish he attacked those issues with the same energy and vigor.”

(H/T: The Christian Post)

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