Rights

US Federal Agency Arrests Indian Students After Luring Them to a Fake University

Federal prosecutors claim that students should have known the university was not legitimate.

New Delhi: A US federal law enforcement agency has arrested 90 foreign students, mostly from India, who had been enrolled in a fake university, set up by the US Department of Homeland Security to bait overseas students, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which was created in 2003 by the Bush administration as an agency under the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, has now confirmed that about 250 students have been arrested between the months of January and July for violating immigration law and the terms of their visas, which require them to be enrolled full time at a federally accredited educational institution for their studies.

The students in question had been lured into enrolling at the now-closed University of Farmington in the Detroit metropolitan area under a sting operation by the Department of Homeland Security.

The students had arrived in the US legally on student visas to attend the University of Farmington, which purportedly offered students lucrative graduate programmes in technology and computer studies. However, in January when the university was revealed to be fake, fabricated and staffed by undercover agents working for the Department of Homeland Security, the students lost their immigration status.

Also read: How the American Dream Drives Indian Students Towards Shady US Universities

Most of the arrested students have either been deported back to India or are currently contesting their removal, barring one student who has been granted the status of a lawful permanent resident status by an immigration judge. The Detroit office of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in a statement, told the Detroit Free Press that of the 250 students arrested, “nearly 80% were granted voluntary departure and departed the United States”.

The enrolled students at the university were allowed to work in the US via an F-1 visa programme for foreign students. Some of the students had transferred to the University of Farmington after their previous schools had lost their accreditation which allowed the students to maintain an immigration status that permitted them to legally remain in the US.

After undercover ICE agents got accreditation for the University of Farmington, they offered cash incentives to recruiters for signing up almost 600 students between February 2017 and January 2019. Seven of the eight recruiters who have been criminally charged for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced in Detroit.

The University of Farmington allegedly collected about $12,000 on average in tuition and fees per year from the students. As of now, no lawsuit or claim has been filed against the US government for collecting the money or for allegedly entrapping the students.

A Texas attorney who represented some of the arrested students told the Detroit Free Press that the US had “trapped the vulnerable people who just wanted to maintain (legal immigration) status”.

Federal prosecutors have insisted that the students should have known the university was not legitimate owing to the lack of classes being held in a physical location and was simply a means for fraudulently maintaining a student visa. In a sentencing memo for one of the recruiters, Prem Rampeesa, federal prosecutor Baker said that “Rampeesa’s conduct casts a shadow on the foreign-student visa program”.

Also read: Declining Numbers Show Indian Students are Wary of Heading to Trump’s US

However, attorneys for the students have argued that the students were hoodwinked since an accreditation agency – that was in cahoots with the Department of Homeland Security on its sting operation – had listed the university as legitimate.

Previously when ICE had detained 129 Indian foreign students for enrolling in a fake university, the Indian ministry of external affairs released a statement urging the US to “release them from detention at the earliest and not to resort to deportation against their will”.

Amer Zahr, an adjunct professor of law and a spokesman for one of the students who were detained by ICE said, “It seems quite clear the scheme was set up by the government not to go after legitimate offenders, but to create fear in our immigration system”.

News of the arrests by ICE sparked outrage on social media and renewed calls for its abolishment under the hashtag #AbolishICE.

Democratic presidential hopeful and senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren called the ICE’s actions “cruel and appalling”.

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez, who had in 2018 campaigned for abolishing ICE, also tweeted in opposition to the agency.

Since 2017, the movement to abolish ICE gained momentum after the Trump administration expanded the agency’s powers and enacted harsh immigration policies that led to the separation of families at the southern border of the US.