While Americans witness continued chaos at the southern border, the Justice Department last week raided a New Jersey Hindu temple accused of importing slave labor from India. Unlike migrants streaming into this country illegally, the temple workers arrived here on religious (R-1 and (R-2) visas.
These temporary visas permit the entry of clergy and lay religious workers such as missionaries. But in the case of Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a Hindu sect known as BAPS, hundreds of low-caste Indian nationals were exploited in a years-long construction project. They were paid the equivalent of $1 an hour for grueling forced labor. BAPS confiscated the men’s passports and confined them to a guarded, fenced-in compound.
BAPS calls itself “a spiritual, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to improving society through individual growth by fostering the Hindu ideals of faith, unity and selfless service.” In fact, its Robbinsville, N.J., temple, or mandir, is a multimillion-dollar operation. Opened in 2014 but still under construction, the organization aims to have the largest Hindu temple in the U.S.
The BAPS operation is not a one-off aberration. Last year, another religious outfit with another long name was busted up on the West Coast.
Officials at the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC) were charged with a host of immigration violations in Van Nuys, California. According to the Justice Department, members were brought from the Philippines under false pretenses, their passports seized, and forced to beg on the streets for a nonexistent child welfare entity.
The federal complaint cited misuse of R-1 visas, as well as tourist visas, and detailed how bundles of cash and luxury goods were sent back to the Philippines.
Reporting on the case, the Center for Immigration Studies quoted a statement by workers. “According to Victim A, as well as other victim-escapees, … 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.”
Although Alejandro Mayorkas’ Department of Homeland Security may not appear particularly energetic about enforcing immigration laws, the prosecution of BAPS and KOJC are encouraging signs that other federal agencies are doing their jobs. In addition to the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service is on the KOJC case.