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.
- 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.
- 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.’”
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
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