Around 90 more foreign students have been arrested as a part of a sting by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which reportedly set up a fake university in Detroit that lured mostly Indian students in before revealing itself as fake.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has reportedly arrested around 250 students since January as a part of the sting, which included the establishment of a pretend university that was apparently listed on the DHS website as legitimate. An ICE spokesperson said that the arrests all occurred between January and July of this year.
Attorneys for the students say that an American accreditation service also claimed the university was legitimate before it was revealed to be staffed by federal agents. The students reportedly came to the US legally on student visas before the sham was disclosed, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Many of the students have now been deported to India, while others are contesting their removal orders. At least one has reportedly been granted lawful permanent resident status by an immigration judge.
The US “trapped the vulnerable people who just wanted to maintain (legal immigration) status,” Rahul Reddy, a Texas attorney who represented some of the students, told the Free Press this week. “They preyed upon them.”
The school also reportedly made a good amount of money from the students, with an email from the university president notifying them that tuition cost $2,500 a quarter, or about $1,000 a month.
“They made a lot of money,” Mr Reddy said.
Alex Nowrasteh, the director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, told The Independent that the sting amounts to an unnecessary and wasteful exercise targeting would-be students instead of violent criminals residing in the US illegally.
“Duping foreign students was a cruel and unnecessary scam. Instead of spending time going after violent and property criminals, the government spent untold sums of money on harassing students trying to attend schools,” Mr Nowrasteh said. “Even if many of these students were participating in a fraud, there are surely cheaper ways than establishing a fake university.”
He continued: “Setting up a fake university is a high cost law enforcement activity with a very low payoff – a typical government program.”
César Garcia Hernandez, associate professor of law at the University of Denver and author of the new book Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants, said that the case presents a worrying scenario in which ICE is potentially abusing immigration law to boost enforcement statistics, while “casting a shadow over all legitimate universities”.
“This is a distressing example of ICE prioritising policing over basic good faith. The students appear to have been duped by claims that a fake institution was in reality a legitimate university. Worse, government officials were behind this duplicity. Without access to a legitimate university, the students have lost the legal basis that they thought they had to be in the United States,” he said. “The onus should never be on students to sniff out a fraudulent university, especially when it is run by officials of the US government.”
Carissa Cutrell, a spokesperson for ICE, said in a statement that the University of Farmington sting — which she noted was first disclosed a year ago — was a valuable part of US immigration efforts to weed out pay-to-stay schemes in the US. The students, she said, had initially entered the US with visas to attend different schools certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, but later transferred to the scam school set up by DHS.
“Undercover schools provide a unique perspective in understanding the ways in which students and recruiters try to exploit the nonimmigrant student visa system. It provides DHS with first-hand evidence of fraud and enhances its understanding of the way in which exploitation networks develop to facilitate fraud,” Ms Cutrell said.
She continued: “This, in turn, informs and improves DHS’s efforts to uncover fraud at schools where the students, and potentially school officials, seek to perpetuate violations either explicitly or through more subtle manipulation of the regulations. In addition, this type of operation serves as deterrent to potential violators and as a reminder to all nonimmigrant students to be vigilant in complying with the pertinent laws while studying in the United States.