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5 Revelations From Our New Exposé on How Scientology Abuses Immigrant Labor


Sep 11, 2022

Serge Gil. 1993

This summary about how the Church of Scientology abuses a religious visa designation to exploit foreign workers was featured in Documented’s Early Arrival newsletter. You can subscribe to receive it in your inbox three times per week here.

As our exclusive exposé published last week revealed, the Church of Scientology leaders have recruited thousands of people from foreign countries into the U.S. through its abuses of the R-1 visa program. This strategy has never been fully scrutinized until our year-long investigation. Here are five revelations from the new report that uncovers how Scientology aggressively used the visa program and created a pool of thousands of exploited laborers.

  1. The workers were coached about what to say during their visa interviews: When Attila Sonkoly was recruited at age 21, he was getting as many as five calls a day from Scientology officials urging him to come work for the organization in the U.S. on an R-1 visa. He finally agreed. Sonkoly saw that what he’d been instructed to tell the consulate — that he’d be performing religious duties as a minister — was a lie. 
  2. After they arrived in the U.S., they had their passports, visas, and other travel and identifying documents taken by church officials:  “You are now truly an undocumented person,” says David Spaulding, who spent 23 years as an immigration officer. “You do not exist. You can’t go to the police. You can’t talk to a social-services person. You can’t buy milk. ‘We own you.’”
  3. In response to the allegations, Karin Pouw, a spokesperson for Scientology, said by email: The Church of Scientology “strictly complies with U.S. immigration policies,” Puow said, adding that the sources our reporter spoke to were engaged in a “coordinated and premeditated conspiracy to level false allegations.”
  4. Scientology has successfully defended itself in court against allegations of worker abuse before: In 2009, Marc and Claire Headley, a married American couple who spent more than a decade in Scientology’s Sea Org, sued the church for human trafficking. They claimed the organization had stolen their wages, forced them into manual labor, and forced Claire to abort two pregnancies. The case was dismissed. A more recent and still unsettled lawsuit from three former Scientology members alleges violations of laws against trafficking, forced labor, peonage, and conspiracy.
  5. Federal inspectors can further investigate and potentially bring justice for these victims: A coordinated program to bring in foreign workers in the ways the former Scientologists describe would be enough for federal investigators to open a fraud inquiry, says Michael Wildes, an immigration expert who served as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn for four years.

Read the full investigation about how the Church of Scientology abuses a religious visa designation to exploit foreign workers by Kevin T. Dugan on Documented here.


New York

A year after the Ida floods, only a fraction of the immigrant relief fund has been used: Just $1,901,034 of the $27 million allocated for the program has been used and distributed to storm victims as of Sept. 1. — City Limits

Three criminalized New Yorkers to speak on how NY facilitates deportations and the need for mass pardons: Assia Serrano, Ricky Williams, and Ousman Darboe, today, will also speak about their individual campaigns to secure pardons. — Read more

Around the U.S. 

First generation Vietnam immigrant helps others after speaking out about mental health struggles and family pressures: Thousands of people commented on a video Thea Pham, 27, made, which led to multiple Zoom town hall meetings where people shared stories like hers. — CBS News

New analysis shows child poverty has fallen by about the same degree across all groups: It has fallen 59% since 1993, with need receding on nearly every front among children of several races, living with one parent or two, and in native or immigrant households. — New York Times

How Chicago is responding to migrants being bused from Texas: The Illinois Department of Human Services said the state has so far welcomed nearly 300 migrants sent to the state by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. — NBC Chicago

Border Patrol halts tweets from agency’s West Texas region: CBP deactivated its Twitter account for the West Texas region after retweeting criticisms of Biden’s border policies and liking posts that used anti-gay slurs. — AP News

Washington D.C.

Biden admin. plans to allow up to 125,000 refugees into US for 2023 fiscal year: The administration said it would admit the same number this year, but is falling far short with only 19,919 refugees admitted with a month left in this fiscal year. — CNN



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