Juana Luz Tobar Ortega came to the United States 24 years ago as an asylum seeker from Guatemala. For the last six years living in North Carolina, Juana has checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) annually and received a stay of deportation. But in April of 2017, she was told without warning that she had 30 days to leave the country or be deported.
In 2017, non-criminal deportation cases like Juana’s have skyrocketed. Deportation is devastating, separating mothers, and breadwinners like Juana from the families and communities who need them. But deportation is not the only option. After over two decades in the United States, Juana refused to leave her 4 children and two 9-year-old granddaughters to return to Guatemala. Instead, in May, 2017, Juana entered sanctuary at an unfamiliar church. St. Barnabas Episcopal in Greensboro, North Carolina welcomed Juana, a complete stranger, into their church home.
"I pray. I believe that God is listening to me."
In sanctuary, ICE can't come in, but Juana cannot leave to work or be at home with her family. She is completely confined with the church grounds. 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 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.