On January 29, 2020, the FBI conducted a raid of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name church in Van Nuys, California. During the raid, the federal authorities arrested three top administrators for the church. The FBI alleged that the church was engaging in immigration fraud and human trafficking. The raid and arrest were covered by several news media in Los Angeles.
According to federal investigators, the church obtained visas for its church members claiming that that they would be performing in musical events in America. But when the members got to the country, their passports were taken away by their church leaders. They were then forced to work as "volunteers” to raise money for the church.
The “volunteers” were reportedly instructed to go to malls, college campuses, restaurants, and department stores throughout the U.S. to solicit donations for a church non-profit called the Children's Joy Foundation USA, according to news reports. The donors were told that their money benefitted impoverished Filipino children. But investigators said this was a lie, and that the donations was actually used to finance the church's expensive projects, such as building a stadium, travel expenses for church leaders to attend conferences, and a special fund sent to the church's leader as a gift for his birthday.
The “volunteers” spent long hours soliciting money for the church. However, they received little to no pay for their work. Several former workers reported to the investigators that they lived in dirty conditions at some of the church's compounds throughout the country and they often slept in parked cars when they are doing their fundraising or solicitations. Workers who raised the most funds were reportedly forced to marry other church members who were U.S. citizens as a way to keep them in the country so they could continue their money-soliciting work.
The government continues to investigate the church's activities, not just in California, but also in Hawaii and other parts of the country. The church claims in its website that it has six million members in 2,000 cities all over the world.
Human trafficking, also known as modern day slavery, is obtaining labor by the use of force, fraud or coercion in order to subject a person to involuntary servitude or slavery. Human trafficking is a criminal offense. However, the laws also allow the victims to obtain compensation for their damages against the traffickers.
In California, trafficking victims are allowed to sue their so-called “employers” for “forced labor,” which means labor or services obtained or maintained through force, fraud, or coercion. Trafficking victims are entitled to:
- Actual damages, including wages, overtime pay, interest, and penalties;
- Damages for emotional distress;
- Treble damages (which means the victim's actual damages multiplied by three);
- Punitive damages;
- Attorneys' fees
Trafficking victims do not have to be physically restrained (or locked up) by the “employer.” They may be able to go outside the home of the “employer” but the “employer” still maintains psychological control over them by threats of harm to them or their family, or threats of being arrested by police or of being deported.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), there is no single profile for trafficking victims – they can be any age, from any economic background, with varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented. They can be foreign nationals or American citizens. For as long as they are compelled by force, fraud, or coercion to provide labor or services, they are victims of labor trafficking.
Human trafficking preys on immigrant workers, especially women and the undocumented. It violates fundamental civil rights. It is wrong and should have no place in today's society.
Victims and those willing to help trafficked workers should not hesitate to confidentially consult with an experienced civil rights attorney to stop this modern-day slavery.