City still at odds with Springfield church providing woman facing deportation sanctuary

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The sanctuary debate shows no sign of letting up over a Springfield Church providing sanctuary for an undocumented immigrant.

“We are not a sanctuary city,” the city’s mayor told 22News.

“We are not a sanctuary city, but we as a church are called to be sanctuary and that’s what we’re doing,” said Louis Mitchell, assistant minister at the South Congregational Church.

Gisella Collazo, a woman facing the possibility of deportation, has been seeking sanctuary inside South Congregational Church in Springfield for the last few weeks.

The city and the church are battling over whether she’s legally allowed to live there.

“For the purposes they’re using this building, it’s not right,” Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno told 22News. “It’s not legal under the law and what is needed if you’re going to start opening up a shelter.”

The church already passed their regular inspection in August, but the city says they need another housing inspection in order to house an individual inside the church. The church says that’s not a necessary step.

“It used to be the sextons quarters, so it’s grandfathered in and doesn’t need any special housing certificate,” Mitchell explained.

22News spoke with Michael Pill, a lawyer who specialized in land-use regulations.

Pill said state law allows a house of worship to be exempt from some zoning regulations, like land use.

Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos told 22News the City Council will vote next Monday on a motion that would prohibit the city from interfering with religious practice.

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