Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is calling for South Congregational Church to lose its tax exemption status after church officials decided to offer sanctuary to Gisella, an undocumented immigrant from Peru who came to the country in 2001 and has two children and an American born husband. Gisella’s name was released through a Pioneer Valley Project news release, which did not disclose her last name.

In a press release, Sarno said the church property was deemed unsuitable to house families under the state’s sanitary code in June 2017.

“They are in violation of building and housing codes and proper non-taxable use of their property,” Sarno stated. “Our city inspection teams will be notified. I am disappointed that they would use and exploit this family in question, but there must be a clear path to American citizenship, whether it’s this case in Springfield or in other parts of our country. Being first generation, it’s simply not fair to all those immigrants, including my parents, who played by the rules and followed the legal immigration path into America.”

A delegation of clergy leaders, members of the Springfield Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, and members of the Pioneer Valley Project drove to Hartford on March 26  to inform U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents that Gisella and her two children were invited into sanctuary, according to a press release announcing the family’s sanctuary from the Pioneer Valley Project.

“At South Congregational United Church of Christ we understand that we are called upon to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger among us,” Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer of South Congregational, said in the press release. “We stand with Gisella as an act of faith in the face of injustice, and as partners in building the beloved community of God.”

Gisella fled poverty in her home country to seek better economic opportunities in the United States, according to the press release. She found employment in the agricultural industry working in fields in the Pioneer Valley. In 2005, she married an American born citizen. Gisella began adjustment to her undocumented status in 2006 and received a work permit shortly after. She and her husband now have two children, ages 10 and four, who join Gisella in sanctuary, the press release said.

“Women like Gisella are caught in a web of immigration enforcement that goes against one deeply held value of our country – that of welcoming people who come here longing for a better life,” Sister Denise Granger of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Springfield stated in the press release. “Our common humanity and our belief that we are truly sisters and brothers on this tiny, fragile planet compel us to offer a safe place for Gisella while she and her family are untangled from an increasingly aggressive, harsh and capricious enforcement of immigration regulations.”

Sarno declined a request for additional comment.

City Councilors Adam Gomez and Marcus Williams, Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer of South Congregational, and Pioneer Valley Project lead organizer Tara Parrish did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.