In Springfield, officials secure warrant to inspect church granting sanctuary
Springfield officials on Wednesday secured a search warrant to conduct health and safety inspections of a church providing sanctuary to a Peruvian woman facing deportation by US immigration authorities.
The inspections will be carried out at South Congregational United Church of Christ Thursday between 9 a.m. and noon by the city’s code enforcement commissioner, Steve Desilets, and Fire Lt. Richard Martin, according to the warrant.
The city announced the inspections, and posted a copy of the warrant, on its website Wednesday.
The action comes more than a week after Gisella Collazo, an undocumented immigrant, and her two US-born children were granted sanctuary by the church, as she faced a March 27 deadline to return to her native Peru by federal immigration officials.
Collazo, the wife of an American citizen, was told during a January check-in with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials that she had until March 27 to return to Peru, where she had left 17 years ago, according to a press release from the Springfield Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, an advocacy group.
She married her husband in 2005 and received a work permit in 2006, the release said.
Collazo, according to that coalition, “desperately wants to become an American citizen and remain here to watch her children grow up, but has faced obstacle after obstacle in her efforts to adjust her status due to multiple legal errors.”
Christine Tetreault, an attorney representing the church, said she does not expect the inspectors to find code violations at the 45 Maple St. property.
The church, she said, is prepared to offer sanctuary to Collazo and her two children indefinitely. The trio has been at the church since March 26, she said.
She declined to discuss the church’s decision to make the city secure a warrant to conduct the inspections.
“I’d rather not discuss legal decision-making,” she said during a brief phone interview with the Globe.
Desilets, the city’s code enforcement commissioner, said in an affidavit that he was informed by Tetreault on Monday that the church would not allow an inspection unless there was a warrant.
Last June, Desilets wrote to a senior minister at the church to tell him that if he wanted to have a residential shelter at the church, there would be “multiple steps involved in that process.”
The process, he wrote, would likely include the installation of sprinklers, bringing all electrical and plumbing systems into current code compliance, and full handicap accessibility, among other changes to the building. He also flagged zoning concerns.
In this week’s affidavit, Desilets said there has been no application for a building permit “indicating any change of use at the property.”
He said he was concerned “about the health, safety and welfare of any occupants of the church who are utilizing the property as a residence.”
Messages left with Springfield City Solicitor Ed Pikula and the church were not immediately returned Wednesday night.
The church’s senior minister last week issued a statement of support of Collazo and her children.
“We stand with Gisella as an active of faith in the face of injustice, and as partners in building the beloved community of God, ” said the Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer.