In 2015, American Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents started a sting operation to set up a fake university in Michigan to entrap students committing visa fraud, reported The Washington Post.
On 30 January 2019, dozens of University of Farmington students were arrested on immigration violations. This was part of an ongoing major nationwide illegal immigration sweep in the US, that became more frenzied as President Trump took office.
US authorities termed this a ‘pay to play’ scheme, where the students knew their activity was illegal but still paid the fees. The students could then provide immigration authorities with evidence of their enrolment in a full-time educational programme.
The students knew their enrolment was illegal, but continued to enrol to avail work under the CPT (a course-related curricular training programme that allows off-campus work for foreign students). Little did the students know that the university was being run by ICE.
Prosecutors wrote an indictment saying the students knew “discretion should be used when discussing the programme with others,” that was filed on 15 January in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, reported Detroit News.
Most of the students enrolled appear to be Telugu Indian nationals. On 30 January, the American Telugu Association released a statement saying, “scores of Telugu students nationwide” had been arrested in the morning raids. The organisation was trying to provide them with legal guidance.
The now-defunct University of Farmington, Michigan, promised an innovative curriculum and a diverse student body on its website, but had no actual classes, professors or students.
It was an office pretending to function as a college, and hundreds of non-American nationals paid thousands of dollars to stay in the US while on a student visa – despite not being students.
Before Wednesday night, the university’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were deleted.
In February 2017, HSI agents began posing as university officials. The undercover operation, nicknamed ‘Paper Chase’, continued until earlier this month.
Eight people, who allegedly worked as recruiters, now face federal conspiracy charges. They collectively helped at least 600 students remain in the US.
ICE has not publicly commented on the case, and it remains unclear how many people face deportation now.
This is not the first time a sting operation has been conducted to track down student fraud in the US. In April 2016, 21 people (a mix of Indian and Chinese nationals) had been charged with recruiting international students to enrol in the fake University of Northern New Jersey.
Many students later said they felt cheated, as if they had been deceived by the government, reported The Hindustan Times.
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