Indian students of a fake university run by undercover US agents to expose immigration fraud have been leaving the country even as many, 129 by the last count made available by authorities, remain in custody. Some have been released reportedly with electronic monitors around their ankles.
The number of those who have left the United States on their own could not be immediately ascertained but Indian officials monitoring the situation said they have heard credibly from the Indian American community that students not in custody have been in leaving, sometimes in groups.
US immigration and customs enforcement, which is the agency that detects and deports undocumented foreigners, has said individuals not in custody — “administrative arrest” — and who have not been served with “Notice to Appear” before an immigration court do not have court proceedings.
A response was awaited from ICE to questions about electronic trackers, which is used to monitor the presence of those who law enforcement officers fear are flight-risks, and about the current number of Indians in custody and those that have been released.
Lawyers advising the students have said they have told them to leave as soon as can on their own. “Challenging their deportation is not going to go well, in my opinion,” said one Atlanta-based immigration attorney, who did not wish to be identified.
Indian embassy in DC and its consulates have been in touch the students, those in custody and free. It has started a telephone helpline, which has received more than 100 responses so far and has offered them legal help from a panel of its attorneys. The embassy is also in contact with the US department of homeland security, which has overarching control over immigration, and the state department and sought consular access to the students.
“We have so far either met or are scheduled to meet shortly a majority of students that are under detention,” Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Indian ambassador to the US told ANI. “We have had our people go to each and every center — whether it’s in Salt Lake city, whether it’s in Seattle, whether it’s in Miami, or it’s in Phoenix … people have gone to different parts of the country to access our citizens and to ensure the students are okay, and what they have to say about this.”
“By Monday we will have access to almost all our students.”
India doesn’t have the total number of those in custody, as it changes because of releases and more arrests. ICE told Hindustan Times last week, the number of Indian students arrested was 129.
Eight persons, of Indian origin, were arrested and criminally charged, separately, for recruiting students for the University of Farmington in Michigan state — which was run by undercover US agents to expose a “pay-to-stay” immigration scam that allowed enrolled students to stay on foreign students visa and work for a fee that was much lower than what US universities charge usually. An estimated 600 students were enrolled at the time of the filing of indictments last week.
None of them had used the enrollment to enter the United States, according to lawyers, officials and Indian Americans in touch with the students. Most of them were students who were already in the US and had completed their studies and enrolled at Farmington to extend their stay while they looked for a job on H-1B visa for high skilled foreigners.
Others were students who were enrolled at other universities, and switched to Farmington because of its low fee and permission to work from Day 1 in school, under CPT (curricular practical training, temporary work authorization for international students).
“Some of them were genuine students who wanted to study and one of them had even reached out to US authorities to ascertain if the university was legitimate,” said a person who is closely involved with the process of helping the students. “That student was sent in return a link to a list of legitimate universities and Farmington was among them”.
Others had also said to have reached out to Farmington University about classes and course work, but had come up blank despite many attempts.
“This is a case of entrapment which is not acceptable in Indian courts,” said an official in India. The argument is that an individual cannot be made to commit an offense through an offer of inducements or other benefits and then be criminally charged for it.
US prosecutors have alleged the student knew what they were getting into. “Each of the foreign citizens who ‘enrolled’ and made ‘tuition’ payments to the University knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study- a “pay to stay’’ scheme,” they said in an indictment.
“Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorization under the CPT.”