U.S. uses fake university to fight visa fraud, 100s of students arrested

"ICE is setting up fake universities to trap students. Yet we were called radical for opposing it," tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

ICE officers carry out a raid (photo credit: HANDOUT/REUTERS)
ICE officers carry out a raid
(photo credit: HANDOUT/REUTERS)
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) used a fake university called the University of Farmington as a front to lure in hundreds of international students to weed out visa fraud, according to the Washington Post.
The university, located outside of Detroit, Michigan, had no actual classes, classrooms or staff, but its website advertised it as "nationally accredited" institution with an innovative STEM curriculum and flexible class schedules.
According to the authorities, Farmington was a "pay to stay" scheme in which foreign students knowingly enrolled in the fake university in order to maintain their student visa status to stay in the US, reported the New York Times.
In the indictment, prosecutors wrote that students knew that the scheme was illegal "and that discretion should be used when discussing the program with others," according to the Post.
Eight people in eight states who were allegedly students at the school were arrested for allegedly working as "recruiters" for the school and helped at least 600 students remain in the country under false pretenses. They face a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The recruiters allegedly helped create fraudulent records for students to provide to authorities and collectively accepted over $250,000 for their work by people who they didn't know were actually undercover agents for Homeland Security Investigations, a division of ICE.
Dozens of Farmington students were arrested on charges of immigration violations nationwide on Wednesday and could face deportation.
The University of Farmington website has been taken offline by the DHS and ICE and now displays a message with the university's logo notifying that the university has been closed by the DHS and ICE and that "affected student should contact their local Homeland Security Investigations Office," with a link to the contact page on ICE's website.
Farmington put effort into appearing like an actual university, with active Facebook and Twitter accounts and a website listing class schedules and tuition information.
A spokesman for ICE in Detroit told local news station WXYZ that the students had entered the US legally while studying at legitimate schools and then transferred to Farmington.
According to Forbes, the federal government earned millions of dollars from the tuition money they received from duped students. It is unclear what the revenue will be used for.
"We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa program can also be exploited and abused," said Matthew Schneider, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, in a media statement.
Many of the Farmington students seem to be Indian nationals, according to reports. According to Ravi Mannam, an immigration lawyer based in Atlanta, some students believed that they were enrolling in a legitimate program. Some had come to enroll elsewhere and had found that their intended program had lost accreditation, so they enrolled at Farmington.
"The government utilized very questionable and troubling methods to get these foreign students to join the institution," said Mannam to the New York Times.
"This is cruel and appalling. These students simply dreamed of getting the high-quality higher education America can offer," tweeted Elizabeth Warren in response to the reports. "ICE deceived and entrapped them, just to deport them."
"Earlier this year, Congress rushed to approve BILLIONS more $ for ICE + [Customs and Border Protection (CBP)]. I saw members voting YES w/o even a summary of the bill. Nobody cared then how we’d pay for it," tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "Now ICE is setting up fake universities to trap students. Yet we were called radical for opposing it."
Ocasio-Cortez stressed that "None of the politicians who brand themselves “fiscally responsible” ever raise concern about rushing to shower ICE & CBP w/ $billions with 0 guardrails or oversight. None of them ask about how we pay for corrupt contracts or mass incarceration. Ask yourself why that is. Look out for those in politics who like to label themselves 'fiscally responsible,' yet only seem to care about the price of justice - not the cost of oppression."
"Everything has a price. And an unjust society is far costlier than one that invests in & values all people," concluded Ocasio-Cortez, tweeting "abolish ICE" in response to another person's tweet about the story.
A similar fake university scheme was set up by authorities in 2016, when officials charged 21 people with recruiting international students to the fake University of Northern New Jersey in order to get student visas. Within days, over 1,000 students were ordered to appear in immigration courts, facing possible deportation or even a lifetime ban from the US. In that case, most of the students were from India and China.
Officials claimed that students were "fully aware" that they were enrolling in a fake school, but some students insisted that they were collateral damage and were duped by both the brokers and the government.
According to Vox, students from both the Farmington and New Jersey cases claimed that they didn't know they were violating the terms of their visas and that they did try to confirm that the universities were legitimate. Some students were arrested even after they transferred out of the school after realizing it was fake.
The use of fake universities "provides DHS with first-hand evidence of fraud and enhances its understanding of the way in which exploitation networks develop to facilitate fraud,” said Carissa Cutrell, an ICE spokesperson, according to Vox. “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."