by Jo Ellen Nott
On August 9, 2022, 40 groups representing immigration advocates and civil rights activists sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, calling foul and asking for an investigation of the University of Farmington – a shell university set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) that bilked foreign Indian students out of millions of dollars.
ICE did a thorough job of representing the University of Farmington as legitimate. Its online catalog detailed over 20 undergraduate and graduate programs and claimed to have full accreditation and authority to enroll international students. The website made this false statement on its “Factoids” page: “We are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (www.accsc.org) and licensed by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs as a private postsecondary college. UF is authorized by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program to admit foreign students.”
ICE agents ran the University of Farmington for four years in their attempt to crack down on visa fraud. The sting started in 2015 and eventually entrapped at least 600 students. The fake university advertised certification by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program SEVP, tricking students into believing it was a valid institution recognized by ICE. In the complaint letter for violations of constitutional and procedural rights of the affected students, lawyers report the university “established a physical address, maintained a professional website, issued offers of acceptance, accepted tuition payments, and mailed students I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”
The fake University of Farmington closed in 2019 after students had paid $6 million in tuition and fees. Its closing dramatically disrupted the lives of most of the students: “The students were detained, and many were placed in removal proceedings in Immigration Court or left the country in fear,” the complaint letter outlined. “One female student was awakened in the middle of the night by ICE agents and taken into custody for 45 days without any advance notice.”
Derek Benner, then acting deputy director for ICE in 2019 who no longer works for the agency, was quoted in the Detroit News as saying, “the individuals enrolled because they saw an opportunity to avoid any academic requirements and, instead, work full-time, which was a violation of their nonimmigrant status.”
Then senator Kamala Harris reacted to the fake university sting calling it cruel and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Senator Harris called for its officials to be held accountable in her Twitter statement.
An anonymous former Farmington student perhaps summed it up best by noting that the government preyed upon vulnerable international students from humble backgrounds.
Sources: The Hill, Inside Higher Ed, Reason
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