ICE violated Facebook policies in sting operation: report

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) violated Facebook's policies by creating fake social media accounts in an effort to identify people committing immigration fraud, according to The Guardian.

The fake profiles were reportedly linked to the University of Farmington, a sham institution that was operated by ICE's Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) division. An indictment from earlier this year said about 600 people were caught up in a "pay to stay" scheme.


“Law enforcement authorities, like everyone else, are required to use their real names on Facebook and we make this policy clear on our public-facing Law Enforcement Guidelines page,” a Facebook representative told The Guardian. “Operating fake accounts is not allowed, and we will act on any violating accounts.”

Khalid Walls, northeast regional communications director for ICE, declined to comment to The Guardian about the social media accounts but said 172 students have been arrested for civil immigration violations in connection to the case.

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

The Guardian reported that in 2015, agents began creating making a fake website that was accompanied by government documents confirming the school was eligible to enroll foreign students. The January indictment said students enrolled even though they allegedly knew it was a sham.

Students visas allow foreigners to remain in the U.S. so long as they are enrolled and progressing progressing toward a degree, otherwise they must leave within 60 days.

ICE reportedly created an account for people like Ali “AJ” Milani, who was presented online as the school's president. It is unclear how frequently ICE used the fake accounts to lure students.

The Guardian added that Facebook removed the fake accounts after the newspaper notified it about the issue.

A company representative told the newspaper that Facebook reached out to the Department of Homeland Security to understand its policy on creating fake accounts.

The ICE investigation led to eight arrests and indictments for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring undocumented immigrants for profit, according to court documents unsealed in January.

The indictments allege that the students "knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits or make academic progress towards an actual degree,” but enrolled only to remain in the country.

Prashanthi Reddy, an attorney in New York City who offered pro bono help to some of the students, pushed back against that characterization, telling The Guardian that some students ran into difficulties trying to transfer after discovering no classes were being held.