Immigration and Naturalization Service investigators arrested 13 members of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church in an early morning raid on a Bethesda home yesterday and charged them with overstaying their tourist visas, a deportable offense.
The six women and seven men, who are from 11 different countries, are accused of overstaying their visas by anywhere from a few months to several years. Wallace R. Gray, director of the Baltimore office of the Immigration Service (INS), said that his office will attempt to deport all 13.
An INS spokesman yesterday described the tactic of gaining entrance to the United States as tourists and them melting into the general population as a common one for Unification Church members. He said that since 1973 more than 1,000 other members of the church have been arrestd by the INS as tourist overstays.
It is virtually impossible to track down such overstays, the spokesman said, and there is no estimate available as to how many church members have entered the country as tourists over the years.
But David Carliner, a Washington immigration attorney representing the 13, denied yesterday that they were overstays. While one had been in the country since 1972, he said most of the 13 entered the country last fall on three-to-15-day tourist visas, then applied for six-month extensions. None of those extensions has been acted upon, he said.
Yesterday's raid was prompted by a tip that individuals with immigration violations were living in the house, according to Gray, prompting investigators to obtain a search warrant.
"They had all been living there for some time," he said. "You might say we might have expected to find more."
He said that all 13 said in statements that they were employed, a deportable offense in its own right for individuals visiting the United States on tourist visas. However, because the overstay charges are easier to prosecute his office will not charge the 13 with working without authorization, he said.
The house where the 13 were arrested is an immaculately kept, two-story brick building with five bedrooms located at 5700 Beech Rd., in a section of Bethesda called Wyngate. Homes there range in price from $150,000 to $200,000. Many of the residents are doctors and scientists who work at the National Institutes of Health.
A church member who would identify himself only as Ken, age 30, from Chesapeake, Va., was the only person at the house yesterday afternoon. He said that seven church members live there and that the church has used the house as a residence for 2 1/2 years. Those arrested yesterday morning had been attending a meeting, he said, but he refused to discuss the meeting topic.
Neighbors described the residents of the house as quiet and generally helpful neighbors.
Marie Connor, who lives across the street from the house, said yesterday that "they were so quiet, so polite, it's sad.They never had parties. They were quiet, hardworking kids. They looked like they needed some tender loving care."
The 13, who came from France, Spain, Holland, West Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Ireland, Canada, Austria, Italy and Australia, were being held in the Baltimore detention center last night. A bond of $2,000 had been set for all but one, whose bond had been reduced to $1,500, Gray said.
A hearing for bond reduction was scheduled for today.