Around 90 additional students have been arrested after the Department of Homeland Security set up a fake university to lure in applications from immigrants living in the US.
The recent arrests brings the total up to 250 international students, mostly from India, who have been arrested on immigration violations since the beginning of the year, according to reports.
Around 80% of those students have been voluntarily deported as a result of their arrest, while the rest are in the process of receiving deportation orders or are contesting their case.
The Department of Homeland Security set up the University of Farmington back in 2015, charging more than 600 students around $12,000 per year in tuition fees. However, the students never actually attended any physical classes. Instead, they enrolled through a visa programme that allows foreigners to work and study in the US.
The students had arrived legally in the US, using student visas, though Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims the students were looking to abuse the student visa programme in a bid to obtain work authorisation in the US. When the school was revealed to have been created by federal agents, the students lost their immigration status leading to many arrests on administrative charges.
According to a statement from the Detroit office of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to the Detroit Free Press, of the 250 students arrested, ‘nearly 80% were granted voluntary departure and departed the United States’. Out of those remaining, around half of them reportedly received a final order removal, were ordered to be removed by an immigration judge, or ‘were given an expedited removal by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’. The other half are said to ‘have filed for some sort of relief or are contesting their removals with Executive Office for Immigration Review’.
Since the school’s closure, arrests of those running it have been made, including eight men who are accused of acting as recruiters for the fake university, seven of whom pleaded guilty to criminal charges. One man, Prem Rampeesa, was arrested for working as a recruiter for the school. Himself an immigrant, Rampeesa had previously entered the country legally on a student visa and enrolled at the Northwestern Polytechnic University in California. However, when the university lost its accreditation, his immigration status was at risk, so enrolled at Farmington, where he later started working as a recruiter.
The case has been heavily criticised by people on the left in the US, including Senator Elizabeth Warren who branded it ‘cruel and appalling’.
This is cruel and appalling. These students simply dreamed of getting the high-quality higher education America can offer. ICE deceived and entrapped them, just to deport them. https://t.co/t6kQLiV5oh
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 27, 2019
When news broke of the arrests, Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted:
This is cruel and appalling. These students simply dreamed of getting the high-quality education America can offer. ICE deceived and entrapped them, just to deport them.
Meanwhile, Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser for Bernie Sanders, added:
Abolish – and I can’t stress this enough – ICE.
According to reports in the Washington Post, it wasn’t until 2017 that federal officers began posing as university staff. Many of the students enrolled because the educational institution they had been attending had lost their accreditation status, and federal law states a college or university must be accredited for international students to be granted visas.
Attorneys for a number of students who were arrested say they were ‘unfairly trapped’ by the US government, as the Department of Homeland Security said the university was legitimate. According to attorney Rahul Reddy, the agency ‘trapped the vulnerable people who just wanted to maintain [legal immigration] status’, as well as the agency making ‘a lot of money’ in the process.
On the other hand, attorneys for ICE and the Department of Justice say students should have known the university was not legitimate, as classes didn’t take place in any physical location.
In a sentencing memo for Rampeesa, assistant US attorney Brandon Helms wrote:
Their true intent could not be clearer. While ‘enrolled’ at the University, one hundred percent of the foreign citizen students never spent a single second in a classroom. If it were truly about obtaining an education, the University would not have been able to attract anyone, because it had no teachers, classes, or educational services.
According to Reddy, however, some students who transferred out of the fake university after realising they didn’t have classes onsite were still arrested.
This isn’t the first time the US has set up a fake university. In 2015, the Justice Department charged 21 foreign nationals for conspiring with more than 1,000 international students to fraudulently obtain visas for the College of Northern New Jersey.
ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls told USA Today six recruiters have so far been sentenced, while a seventh is due to be sentence in January.
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Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist who started her career by producing The Royal Rosemurgey newspaper in 2004, which kept her family up to date with the goings on of her sleepy north east village. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining Tyla (formerly Pretty 52) in 2017, and progressing onto UNILAD in 2019.