SPRINGFIELD -- The City Council voted unanimously Monday to order the city not to interfere with South Congregational Church, which is providing sanctuary to a Peruvian woman facing deportation.
The council's 13-0 vote in support of the sanctuary came after Mayor Domenic J. Sarno criticized the Maple Street church and ordered inspections to determine if there were any violations of housing codes.
Armed with a court order, the city's code enforcement and fire departments did conduct a full inspection of the sanctuary April 5, in which only minor violations were found, city officials said.
An overflow crowd at the council chambers Monday cheered and applauded the council vote that said the city "shall not interfere with the South Church or any other place of worship and the Springfield Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition in carrying out its religious convictions and providing sanctuary."
"I think common sense prevailed tonight," council President Orlando Ramos said after the vote. "We had a very long and healthy debate on this very important issue, but at the end of the day we all agreed the administration overstepped their authority."
Councilor Jesse Lederman called the vote the "right thing to do, the courageous thing to do."
The order was amended by Councilor Kenneth Shea to refer to city interference rather than directly order city employees and agents to not interfere. Some councilors were concerned about orders aimed at city employees.
A reference to the council being opposed to spending public dollars on interference was also dropped.
Gisella Collazo, a Peruvian woman who had been ordered by federal immigration officials to return to her home country, has been living at the sanctuary since March 26 with her two children, ages 10 and 4. She moved to the U.S. 17 years ago, and married an American citizen in 2006, having two American-born children.
The Springfield Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition and the church are welcoming Collazo to stay at the sanctuary as long as necessary to gain legal status.
With search warrant in hand, Springfield inspectors find minor violations at church serving as sanctuary to Peruvian woman facing deportation
City officials entered the church around 9 a.m. Thursday.
Sarno said last week that city inspections were necessary to protect public health and safety and to ensure the dwelling met all housing and safety codes.
Code Enforcement Commissioner Steven Desilets said the sanctuary passed the inspection. There were only minor maintenance issues found, such as a stuck window and the need to replace a door lock, Desilets said. He said he expected the issue would be wrapped up within a couple of days.
Ramos was among councilors saying they wanted a vote by the council on Monday despite the inspection already taking place. The vote would show the council's support for the church's decision to create a sanctuary, and serve to protect the sanctuary from interference, he and some other councilors said.