Sanctuary is the act of an undocumented person taking refuge in a church as insulation against deportation. Despite the advancement of a nationalist, anti-immigration agenda, it remains the strategy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to avoid raiding these “sensitive locations.” I first learned of sanctuary about five years ago and immediately found it compelling. It is an existence that is both somewhat willing self-detention and an outspoken act of resistance. As I sat in these churches the news media was alight with reports of family separation at the southern border. The people I sat with had been separated as well. It just looked different. There were no cages or space blankets in these churches. Nonetheless, they could not leave, or should not. And often, their families are not there. As difficult as it is, they make this choice. The choice is to resist injustice and to be at least occasionally present for those they love. It is no small feat to stand up and resist the government of the United States. I believe it’s brave. This courage, however, manifests as conditions not typically associated with bravery: loneliness, uncertainty and boredom.
Of the three participants in Shut Away, two continue within the confines of their sanctuaries. The third, Samuel Oliver-Bruno, was arrested and deported while making a good-faith attempt to further his case for a stay of removal. Immigration is one of the most discussed topics in the United States. The bulk of that attention, however, is focused on the southern border. Meanwhile, interior issues are less considered and sanctuary cases are all but forgotten. When I began this project, North Carolina had the most cases of sanctuary in the nation. Shut Away aims to highlight the people in that southern state who are engaged in these acts of resistance.