U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have arrested around 250 students since January in a sting operation revolving around a fake university in Michigan. The Department of Homeland Security created the University of Farmington and enticed foreign-born students, who were mostly from India, to study in the United States as part of an international student visa program. Students enrolled in the program are required to attend classes and make progress towards a degree.
Officials say that the school did not offer classes or have any teachers on staff, which should have been a red flag to prospective students. Federal officials also arrested eight individuals who helped recruit the students and took their money, knowing the school was a scam.
“Their true intent could not be clearer,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Helms wrote in a sentencing memo for one of the recruiters. “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.”
The recruiters were unaware that the Department of Homeland Security created the school and staffed it with undercover agents. Investigators believe that the recruiters pocketed millions of dollars from the prospective students.
“[The defendants] conspired with each other and others to fraudulently facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals in illegally remaining and working in the United States by actively recruiting them to enroll into a metro Detroit private university that, unbeknownst to the conspirators, was operated by HSI (Homeland Security Investigation) special agents as part of an undercover operation.”
Defense lawyers for the students blasted the government for entrapping the students, who came to the United States legally, by tricking them into believing the school was legitimate. The Department of Homeland Security even worked with an accreditation agency, which listed the university as legitimate.
“[The United States] trapped the vulnerable people who just wanted to maintain (legal immigration) status,”Rahul Reddy, a Texas attorney who represented or advised some of the students arrested, told the Detroit Free Press. “They preyed upon them.”
Government officials disagree and said the students should have realized something wasn’t right because the school did not have any teachers and did not offer any classes. Students enrolled in the Curricular Practical Training are required to leave the U.S. within 60 days after they stop taking classes.
“[The students] knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits or make academic progress toward an actual degree,” officials wrote in an indictment. “Each student knew that the University’s program was not approved by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was illegal, and that discretion should be used when discussing the program with others.”
Officials said that 80% of the arrested students were granted voluntary departure from the United States and left the country. 10% of the students have received a final order of removal, while the other 10% are contesting their dismissal with the Executive Office for Immigration Review.