Story at a glance
- In 2015 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement set up a sham university in Michigan to target student visa fraud.
- However, students caught in the scheme — most of whom were of Indian descent — allege there was no way of discerning the fake university from a real one.
- The scam went so far as to collect tuition payments and fees from students and mail I-20 Certificates of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
In a letter sent sent Tuesday to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, more than 40 organizations call for an investigation into a sham university set up by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2015.
Through the University of Farmington scheme, created to expose student visa fraud, ICE entrapped around 600 individuals who were detained without due process and seized more than $6 million worth of tuition fees, according to a press release from the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG).
The majority of individuals targeted were of Indian descent, save one prospective student of Palestinian descent.
Changing America has reached out to the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for comment.
Attorneys for the students also filed a civil rights complaint with DHS.
Following a 2019 announcement that the school was a sting operation, “ICE began terminating students’ immigration status, claiming that any student who enrolled in the University had knowingly participated in visa fraud,” according to the letter.
But students maintain there was no way of knowing the university was fake or had any discernible factors distinguishing it from a real university, as it established a physical address, maintained a professional website, issued offers of acceptance and accepted tuition payments, among other actions. It even mailed students I-20 Certificates of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
The University of Farmington was also marketed as a Michigan institution authorized by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program that allows the admittance of foreign students, according to the complaint.
The letter is signed by a myriad of organizations including South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), the Center for Security, Race and Rights, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, and the Japanese American Citizens League, among many others.
Students caught in the scheme allege the U.S. government preyed upon them when they were in vulnerable situations.
“Regardless of presidential administrations, the exploitation and criminalization of immigrants continues. ICE set up this fake university to bait and trap immigrant students under the Obama Administration. They were exposed under the Trump Administration and should finally be held accountable now by the Biden Administration,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, executive director of SAALT in a statement.
“These students were specifically targeted for their national origin, a trademark of DHS. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta has the power to immediately restore the over six million dollars in tuition money stolen from these students. By doing so, she could begin to improve the current administration’s dismal track record on immigration,” Sridaran continued.
Others condemned the use of taxpayer money to entrap students and the subsequent profit made by DHS when it collected students’ tuition payments.
A similar sting played out in New Jersey in 2013, ultimately implicating more than 1000 students. A legal settlement was reached between the government and plaintiffs in January 2022 following a class-action lawsuit. As part of the settlement, the government is liable for $450,000 in legal fees, while individuals whose visas were overturned may have their removal canceled by DHS.