Sanctuary: 1. A place of refuge or safety. 2. A holy place; a temple or church.
A Latina woman alone in a building sweeps the floors, padding around quietly, making short broom movements on the floor. She kicks up minimal debris into a circle, moving from room to room. At a closer look, a chunky black bracelet with a pulsing red light sits on her ankle. Suddenly the mood shifts, something more sinister and unknown. Is she a criminal? Can she leave?
Juana Luz Tobar Ortega is living in a church. She has taken what’s referred to as “sanctuary” in St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, NC. On May 15, 2017 Juana was ordered to leave the U.S. After two decades of working with a permit, paying taxes, marriage, family-rearing in the U.S., ICE very suddenly and without explanation revoked her ability to remain in the country. In an effort to remain close to her husband, U.S. resident Carlos Ortega, 4 children, and 2 grandchildren, Juana took refuge at St. Barnabas. Her family remains in their rented trailer in Asheboro, NC, but visits her regularly and stay the night.
In just a few days, Juana went from being a relatively secure matriarch of a close-knit family to being regarded as a fugitive.
Juana’s sanctuary is widely publicized as a way of raising awareness for her cause. Her oldest daughter Lesvi finds herself a reluctant activist, petitioning the North Carolina government to create an exception for her mother, and allow her to return to her home. Others follow Juana’s example, and soon more people facing deportation begin to enter sanctuary in North Carolina and throughout the country.
Juana is not alone in the church. Each day, parishioners of the St. Barnabas congregation take shifts to keep watch. “We’re all together brothers and sisters in Christ,” says Juana’s English teacher Nancy Poulos, emphasizing the importance of sharing space with Juana with the mission of the church. “Unfortunately some people tend to get mixed up about this.”
In sanctuary, ICE can't come in, but Juana cannot leave to work or be at home with her family. As time passes, and state lawmakers continue to ignore the family's pleas for a stay on her deportation, Juana's spirits slowly sink. And yet, she leans into her faith. Juana is patient that in God's house, God will answer her prayers.
In May, 2018, Juana completed one year living in sanctuary. ICE has made no attempt to remove her from the premises.
In this complicated immigration landscape, communities can be divided, or communities can be brought together under extraordinary circumstances. SANTUARIO is a documentary short about radical faith, one family's fight to stay together, and the true meaning of church in today's immigration climate.
“By capturing the quiet, mundane moments that make up a life, “Santuario,” shows viewers how much those moments can mean when they are taken away. The film also demonstrates the power that religion and community can play in such a divided political landscape. And it highlights the uncertainty and real threats that those in our community face every day due to anti-immigrant policies.” – Triad City Beat
"Lush with empathy and stark with reality, Santuario is not optimistic—it is about the future, and the long care work of the present." - Scalawag Magazine
Christine is a documentary producer and director based in Minneapolis, MN and Durham, NC. Christine is a New Orleans Film Society Southern Producing Lab fellow, an associate of UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program, and a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.