Pastor Jason Aguilar believes the Bible is clear on immigration policy. To him, even the example of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden can be interpreted through an immigration lens. After the couple tasted the forbidden fruit, God punished them, but also showed compassion. “They had to go into a ‘foreign land,’ a land that didn’t belong to them,” Aguilar says. “But God said, I’m going to treat you with love, kindness, and mercy. That was his whole point – love, kindness, and mercy.” Yet today, American policy fails to treat immigrants with that same compassion, says Aguilar, who strives to offer it through his Evangelical church, The Cloud Church OC.
Yet suddenly, and without explanation, the woman was released. ‘All I can say is that it was just a miracle from God.’
Aguilar and his wife, Christine, lead a flock of Orange County, California, millennials in worship. They livestream services and lead initiatives like summer Bible camps and meetings with law enforcement representatives, all aimed at helping Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American immigrants assimilate into American society. “A lot of immigrants, they’re afraid of the police because of experiences with the police in their home countries,” Aguilar explains. “So we try to be a part of the connection by showing them that our police department is really great. They’re there to serve and protect.” The Cloud Church OC also offers ESL classes, job application coaching, and help with tasks like applying for a driver’s license at the DMV.
Aguilar has long been dedicated to supporting individuals from various walks of life, backgrounds, and nations. Throughout his career as a pastor, he’s visited 30 countries on six continents. His travels have taught him exactly why America’s immigration policies matter. “People look to the United States as a place to find refuge, to find a better life,” he says, pointing out that the Bible mandates that strangers be treated with respect and honor. “It just seems like we don’t do that. The Bible speaks about this; there are some pretty solid scriptures concerning immigration. That’s why I would think that Christians stand on the side of immigration reform.”
In California, 20 to 30 percent of The Cloud Church OC’s congregation is comprised of immigrants. And because of Orange County’s high level of affluence, some newcomers are well off, coming to the United States with big ideas for new ventures and businesses. One Cloud Church OC member from China has a business involving the production and manufacturing of synthetic corn. But attaining legal U.S. residency after an initial work permit expires can be nearly impossible, Aguilar says. “It’s almost like you can’t do it without a lawyer,” he explains. “The immigration process is not very user-friendly.”
The process also creates high levels of insecurity for new arrivals. Previously, Aguilar lived and worked in Long Island, in New York. Nine out of ten of his congregants were immigrants from Central or South America. Immigration enforcement raids were common, and more than once Aguilar found himself leading desperate prayers in an effort to thwart a congregant’s imminent deportation.
“I remember they picked up one of our members of our church off the street,” he recalls. “She was a good lady. She had children, and she and her husband were just trying to make a life, trying to do everything legally. … She happened to be walking down the street, and they swooped her up just because of what she looked like. … They treated her like a criminal.” Yet suddenly, and without explanation, the woman was released. “All I can say is that it was just a miracle from God,” Aguilar says.
To Aguilar, the U.S. immigration system is complicated and uninviting — which stands in marked contrast, he believes, to biblical teachings. “As a Christian, I think we need to treat those people who are foreigners — the Bible calls them strangers or foreigners — with honor and respect and love and care,” he says. “That’s something we should automatically do as human beings.”