It is awkward for the government to take action against immigration fraud when it involves either a church or something that looks like a church.
But the FBI, and its DHS allies, did so recently against three U.S. employees of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC). The three worked for the church in Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley.
This Pentecostal entity was founded in the Philippines and has branches in the United States. The founder and leader is Apollo Quiboloy, who regards himself, according to Wikipedia, as the "Appointed Son of God". The church is based in Davao, the big city on Mindanao, the second largest of the nation's islands. Quiboloy is an ally of the former mayor of that city, Rodrigo Duterte, now the nation's authoritarian president. Quiboloy lent his helicopter and his jet to Duterte during the latter's successful campaign for the presidency. A pastor with a helicopter and a jet plane?
None of the information in the previous paragraph is in the complaint filed last month in the federal court for the Central District of California, but we do find this text about some of the young female members of the church, called "pastorals", in a footnote on p. 26:
According to Victim A, as well as other victim-escapees whom the FBI interviewed, including Victim L and Victim M, in addition to acting as the KOJC's leader's personal assistants, pastorals were obligated to perform "night duty," i.e., have sex with the KOJC leader.
The PACER file on this case is 2:20-cr-00079-TJH.
It is within this unattractive context that the church (or cult) violated our immigration laws more than 100 times. It brought members of the church from the Philippines to the United States under false pretenses, seized their passports shortly after arrival, and forced them to beg on the streets for a nonexistent child welfare entity, while the money actually went to fund the leader's extravagant lifestyle.
The victims had to work long hours, sometimes had to sleep in cars, and sometimes were punished, verbally and physically, if they did not meet the targets set by the three accused cult executives, all apparently women of Filipino extraction, Guia Cabactulan, Marissa Duenas, and Amanda Estopare.
If the victims were reasonably good at their work, the trio applied two different immigration-law-breaking techniques to keep them in this country in apparent legal status. In 20 or so cases, they enrolled them in universities that had visa-mill-characteristic schedules, such as all the classes for the week in a single day, or a heavy schedule on one day every two weeks. The otherwise admirable complaint speaks of two such universities, but names neither.
In another 82 cases, phony marriages were arranged between citizen cult followers and the alien fundraisers. Did someone in the USCIS Vermont Regional Center, which handles marriage petitions, notice a pattern? The complaint is silent on that point as well.
The complaint also mentions misuse of the R-1 (religious worker) visas, and tourist visas. That document also goes into wonderful detail about how money was sent from the United States to Davao; often funds collected, presumably in small bills, were exchanged for crisp $100 bills, and then hidden in socks sent to the Philippines. Care was taken that no amounts larger than $9,000 were collected in any one place. Among the goods sent to the leader were Armani suits.
I like these documents when they are written by FBI agents, as opposed to other law enforcement types, because the FBI uses footnotes, as other entities do not seem to. Whatever protection and money payments made to the victims is reported in these notes. The FBI, sensibly, was using the short-term T visa for trafficking victims, rather than the longer-term U visas for crime victims in this case.
One can speculate that the current action is the tip of a very large iceberg, and we will hear about more violations in the months and years to come. There was, for example, a mention of IRS agents working on the case in the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, and that's a good sign.
That three women were indicted in a male-dominated organization is vexing, but the women are here in the States, and their ultimate boss is not. Let's hope that Quiboloy is not on the "No Fly" list and comes to visit his parishioners in the States some day — and gets arrested.