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‘This Was No Secret’: ICE, DOJ Respond To Criticism Of Sting That Busted Students Committing Visa Fraud

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  •  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) apprehended about 250 foreign students enrolled in the University of Farmington, a fake school the agency set up to nab foreign nationals abusing the student visa program. 
  • News of the arrest prompted backlash from Democratic politicians who were under the impression that the students were honestly looking to obtain an education.
  • ICE and the Justice Department responded and noted that Farmington had no teachers, no classes and no actual curriculum and that students who enrolled were well aware of this.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Justice Department officials pushed back Friday against criticism about a fake university that busted foreign nationals committing student visa fraud and argued the “students” knew exactly what they were doing.

The University of Farmington, a fake Michigan school U.S. federal agents created, led to the arrests of hundreds of foreign nationals earlier in 2019. The operation, spearheaded by ICE, attracted foreign nationals who were apparently not interested in attending classes, but wished to remain in the U.S. on their student visas.

“If the ‘students’ truly wanted to obtain an education, they would have attended legitimate graduate programs at other universities. This is because the University of Farmington had no teachers, classes, or educational services — and this was no secret,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said to the Detroit Free Press on Dec. 6.

The university offered no curriculum of any kind, but that didn’t stop many foreign students from remaining enrolled for months. Farmington was established to specifically catch foreigners committing student visa fraud, many of them willing to pay for enrollment as they work outside the classroom.

The operation received renewed attention in November upon the news that more individuals had been arrested. The latest update prompted immense backlash from immigration activists and Democratic politicians who appeared to be under the impression that these students were sincerely looking to obtain an education and the government duped them.

Farmington Website. Screen grab

The Farmington website is pictured after DHS took the “school” offline. Screen grab

“This is cruel and appalling,” Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted in November. “These students simply dreamed of getting the high-quality higher education America can offer. ICE deceived and entrapped them, just to deport them.”

California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris called for officials to “be held accountable” for their involvement, and New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the opportunity to reiterate her calls to abolish ICE.

However, ICE has responded to the criticism and noted students who enrolled in Farmington were made well aware that there were no classes.

“[Homeland Security Investigations] HSI special agents, as part of this undercover operation, made it abundantly clear in their interactions with potential University of Farmington enrollees that the school did not offer academic or vocational programs of any kind,” Vance Callender, special agent in charge of the Detroit office of ICE’s HSI, said to the Free Press. “The individuals who enrolled in the University of Farmington did so intentionally.”

Authorities apprehended roughly 250 students and granted nearly 80% voluntary departure from the country, meaning they could leave on their own accord without having a deportation on their record. The remaining 20% have either been given a final order of removal or are contesting their removal orders with the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Federal prosecutors criminally charged eight of the recruiters for Farmington.

A member of ICE and ERO Fugitive Operations teams is pictured during an operation in San Jose

A member of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Removal Operations (ERO) (San Francisco and Northern California) Fugitive Operations teams is pictured during an operation in San Jose, California, Sept. 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

Callender explained how those involved were aware of their culpability.

“[They] knew the school did not offer courses or confer degrees, and remained enrolled for about 18 months, even though they never attended one single class. They violated the terms of their non-immigrant status in the U.S. by using the F-1 program as a pay-to-stay scheme,” he said to the Free Press. “Investigations like these provide first-hand evidence of how people exploit the non-immigrant student visa system.”

Arrests of the Farmington students took place from January to July, with the majority taking place in mid-February, according to an ICE statement to the Daily Caller News Foundation. The vast majority of the students enrolled in Farmington were Indian nationals. (RELATED: ‘It’s Disgusting’: Former ICE Chief Reacts To Acquittal Of Man Who Offered $500 To Kill An ICE Agent)

The Justice Department also explained why the government took action against the enrolled students.

“At the outset, they were told there would be no classes and no education. Month after month the ‘students’ willingly paid the ‘University’ so that they could fraudulently maintain their status (as a full-time student engaged in educational activities), and falsely obtain documents (Form I-20’s) that would allow them to illegally remain, re-enter, and work in the United States,” Schneider said to the Free Press.

The creation of Farmington was years in the making and dates back to the Obama administration.

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