At the epicenter of an international immigration crisis, an unexpected group of leaders step forward with outstretched arms and open hearts.
Priests, Imams, and Rabbis—faith leaders from all corners of the U.S.—have entered a political battle as organizers, translators, legal counselors, and moral witnesses.
We traveled with faith leaders to the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers are apprehended each year by I.C.E.
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There were many challenging moments that followed me long after shooting this film—I.C.E. raids, vigils, and many families torn apart by forces beyond their own control. In these moments, I look to the small victories that were won, and the incredible organizers I met along this journey.
I remember the first conversation I had with an El Paso resident, Joel. I asked him what he thought the biggest misconception about the U.S.-Mexico border debate was. Joel turned to me and said, “they don’t understand that this is one city. El Paso and Juarez are one, and so are all the cities that lie on this border.”
On the re-entry line to the U.S., I met an elderly woman who graciously offered to drive me back to my hotel. She was born in Mexico, and frequently returns for her various doctors appointments. She explained to me that everyone here has family on the adjacent side of the border; so many rely on open border crossings for work, affordable medical treatment, and quality time with loved ones. Stories like hers, and so many others I spoke to, had proved Joel right.
As my plane took off from El Paso, and I got further and further from the border, I realized just how fragile, even insignificant, the wall appeared in relation to the vastness of the desert. I wondered what this experience meant for my own life— if unintentionally becoming a moral witness would propel me to take action in my own community.
I’m reminded of my interview with Imam Khalid Latif, in which he said,
“What does it say about your heart if you have the ability to help someone, but you still sit back and watch them suffer? That you can literally witness them capsizing on boats across the ocean or carrying their loved ones in their hands as they trek across deserts, or be in places where they're met with inequity upon inequity, while you sit back and watch?"
I got back to New York and started connecting with a few of my neighbors in Queens, who had journeyed to the U.S. to break free from systemic poverty and violence back home. One woman, Kandy, sticks out in my memory. I quickly got to know her, and her young son, who had previously been separated from her by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I accompanied Kandy to lobby with other immigration activists on the floor of the New York State Assembly. I like to believe that I gleaned a bit of her fighter spirit from our encounters.
I arrived at this project because I wanted to better understand how so many faith leaders found themselves at the epicenter of this human rights movement. I began my journey with a simple inquiry, “What divine message have our priests, rabbis, and imams interpreted as our collective call to action?”
Spending time with so many faith leaders reminded me of a powerful teaching from my own tradition: “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to abandon it (Pirkei Avot 2:16).” The people that I had the privilege to follow with my camera remind me that everyday we must wake up and recommit ourselves to this work. For some, the work happens online and in the streets; for others, in refugee camps and detention centers. I didn’t know when I traveled to the border that the story I was telling had only just begun. And although there is no clear end in sight, there is no option but to continue the work.
As Rev. Donna Schaper says, "There has to be something larger than the nation... and there is." To be a person of faith is to believe that there are forces greater than our own human ingenuity, our border walls, and our individual nations.
Let us learn to be better neighbors and better people. And let us forge a global sanctuary, not with cheap steel, but with compassion and justice.
-Jacob Fertig, "Sanctuary" Director
Cinematography by Jacob Fertig with additional footage shot by Elliot Delano, Julia Kupiec, and Ilona Szekeres.
Sound recording by Audrey Leach and Dominique Cruz.
Directed and Produced by Jacob Fertig.
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