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City council stifles mayor's attempt to punish church for housing illegal immigrant

The Springfield, Massachusetts, City Council voted to prohibit the city from interfering with churches that provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants. (Image source: YouTube video screenshot)

The Springfield, Massachusetts, City Council has blocked Mayor Domenic Sarno's attempts to punish a local church that is providing sanctuary to an illegal immigrant against his orders, WNPR-TV reported Tuesday.

Gisella Collazo, a Peruvian immigrant facing deportation, has been living at South Congregational Church for more than two weeks along with her two children, who were born in the U.S.

What's the story?

Sarno has made it clear in the past: Springfield is not a sanctuary city.

So when he found out South Congregational Church was shielding an illegal immigrant from deportation, he sought out any legal options he could to punish the church.

"Please re-inspect the property in question for illegal housing aspects," Sarno wrote in an email to city staff. "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."

According to the Boston Globe, the church recently passed an inspection, but the city found only "minor violations" such as a broken door lock and a window that needed repair.

What did the City Council do?

The Springfield City Council unanimously passed an order Monday night preventing the city from interfering with religious institutions that give sanctuary to illegal immigrants.

One councilor, Michael Fenton, called the mayor's efforts to punish the church "executive overreach." Another, Adam Gomez, criticized Sarno for using city resources to attack a church.

"This, right here, you're attacking a church," Gomez said during last week's inspection. "We could use those resources on other buildings, other blighted property that are really run down and making our community look deplorable."

South Congregational Church, like other churches in the past, is taking advantage of the fact that immigration authorities usually avoid taking people into custody in houses of worship, although they technically have the legal authority to do so.

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