US immigration officials arrest 250 at fake university

WASHINGTON

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have arrested an additional 90 foreign students who attended a fake university in Michigan, raising the total to 250, according to a report published Wednesday.

The University of Farmington was a fake school created in the metro Detroit area by the Department of Homeland Security as part of an immigration sting and was staffed by undercover agents posing as school officials, the Detroit Free Press newspaper reported.

The students entered the U.S. on legal student visas, according to the Free Press, which said they lost their status after it was revealed to be a fake university established by federal officials and was shut down in January.

ICE told Anadolu Agency that of the 250 arrested students “nearly 80% were granted voluntary departure and departed the United States.” Of the remaining 20% roughly half were ordered to be removed by either a judge or U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The remainder “have either filed for some sort of relief or are contesting their removals with Executive Office for Immigration Review,” the department added.

ICE reported in March that 161 students had been arrested, but that number grew with roundups in recent months, according to the Free Press.

Attorneys for the students have claimed they were unfairly entrapped since both the Department of Homeland Security and an accreditation organization that was working with the agency on the sting listed the university as legitimate on their websites, according to the Free Press. ICE did not comment on the matter when asked by Anadolu Agency.

Many of the over 600 students enrolled at the University of Farmington did so though the Curricular Practical Training program, which allows students to work while studying, while others had transferred in after their original school lost accreditation, the newspaper reported.

If the school a student was attending lost accreditation their visa would have lapsed, meaning they were residing in the U.S. illegally.

The U.S. “trapped the vulnerable people who just wanted to maintain (legal immigration) status,” Rahul Reddy, a Texas attorney who represented or advised some of the arrested students, told the newspaper. “They preyed upon on them.”

Attorneys for the federal government, however, maintain that students should have known the university was not real since it did not offer classes in a physical location.

A spokeswoman for ICE told Anadolu Agency that the university “offered no academic or vocational programs of any kind.”

“Since the school did not offer courses or confer degrees, the enrollees were simply using the F-1 program as a pay-to-stay scheme,” Carissa Cutrell said in an emailed statement. “Undercover schools provide a unique perspective in understanding the ways in which students and recruiters try to exploit the nonimmigrant student visa system. It provides DHS with first-hand evidence of fraud and enhances its understanding of the way in which exploitation networks develop to facilitate fraud.”
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