An undocumented immigrant left the sanctuary of a church in western Massachusetts today to rejoin her family after being given a one-year stay from deportation.
Gisella Collazo smiled broadly as she wheeled a suitcase to a waiting car in the parking lot of the South Congregational Church in Springfield just after noon Monday, leaving behind the two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of the church where she had lived since late March.
Askd if she was happy to being going home, Collazo replied, "Mucho. Very happy. Gracious."
With the threat of imminent deportation to Peru gone, the Springfield woman left the protection from arrest the church afforded her and returned home to her two American-born children and husband. She no longer wears a GPS ankle bracelet that alerts federal immigration agents to her whereabouts.
About 100 people gathered in the chapel of the church to cheer the news of the temporary reprieve and to send Collazo off with prayers and a song.
The action by the historic Springfield church to provide sanctuary to Collazo prompted Mayor Domenic Sarno – a rare opponent among Democrats of the immigrant sanctuary movement – to order an in-depth code inspection of the apartment where the woman was residing. Inspectors found no serious problems.
The Springfield City Council unanimously passed an order preventing the city from interfering with a house of worship providing sanctuary.
Rev. Tom Gerstenlauer, the senior pastor at South Congregational, said what the church did was an act of faith in the face of injustice.
" We remain a community of faith in solidarity with Gisella and her family and all who suffer unjust and unfair persecution under a system of imperfect law and incompetent administration," said Gerstenlauer.
Speaking inside the chapel before she left the church Monday, Collazo tearfully said, in Spanish, she was grateful to have been given sanctuary.
" Many families are not as fortunate and are being separated every day around the country," she said.
Her statement was read later in English.
Collazo’s immigration attorney, Andrea Reid, said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted the stay of removal to allow more time to pursue legal status for Collazo, who been in the U.S. since 2001 and married to an American citizen since 2005.
"It has been a very difficult journey for her, but she continues to maintain her faith and continued to stick to her family and hope things work out for the best," said Reid. " This is a temporary victory, but hopefully she can get to the ultimate goal which is to stay here with her family as the law allows."
Two other undocumented immigrants are living in churches in western Massachusetts to avoid imminent deportation.