As lead pastor at Iglesia Asambleas de Dios Vida, also known as Assemblies of God Church, in Manassas, Virginia, Juan Hernandez leads a church of approximately 200 congregants, many of whom are immigrants. “People from different countries bring so much knowledge,” says Hernandez. “They are doctors and lawyers. We have people trying to start small businesses. But they can’t grow them without papers. We have young people in college. These are the people our economy is built on. And we need immigration reform now because, unless they’re allowed to stay, their contributions are going to go elsewhere.”
They are hard workers, homeowners, taxpayers, knowledgeable.
These immigrant congregants also help to make Manassas a better place for everyone. Even the ones without documentation work alongside American citizens, feeding the homeless or helping those in need find jobs or places to live. “These people are valuable,” says Hernandez of his churchgoers. “They are hard workers, homeowners, taxpayers, knowledgeable, and many of them need documents so they can contribute legally.”
Hernandez is an immigrant himself. At the age of 17, he left his home and family in El Salvador to move to the United States. “There was a civil war, and my dad and mom wanted me to have a better life,” recalls Hernandez, who lived with an aunt and uncle for those first few years. “The separation of my family hurt me. When you’re 17, you need your dad to look out for you and give you advice. I had to do everything myself, and it was really hard.”
Everyone dreams to be here legally.
In the beginning, Hernandez worked without documents, taking odd jobs in construction and cleaning universities before eventually enrolling in a theological college. He’s spent the last decade working as a pastor, leading mission trips to Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Six years ago, his dream of becoming an American citizen finally became a reality.
“I celebrated big!” says Hernandez. “Everyone dreams to be here legally. That day the guy said, ‘Contribute to this country the most you can,’ and that’s what I want to do: be a good example, a good pastor, and help people. The people who come to this country want to do that, too.”
Considering his personal story, it is no surprise that preventing families from being split up is at the top of Hernandez’s list of reasons for immigration reform. He’s also concerned with doing whatever it takes to keep the best and brightest here in the United States.
“I hope and pray the government starts giving at least a little something,” says Hernandez, referencing the recent Supreme Court rulings against the expanded Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals program and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program. “We’re not asking for the whole pizza. We’re asking for a slice. My dream is that one day they will help.”