All 130 foreign students, including 129 Indians who were detained for enrolling in a fake university, were aware that they were committing a crime to fraudulently remain in the US, the State Department has said, days after India issued a demarche to the American Embassy in New Delhi, The Statesman reported.
The students were detained by US immigration authorities in connection with enrolment at the fake University of Famington in Farmington Hills.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the fake university was set up by its agents as part of undercover operation to catch people violating the terms of their visas.
The University of Farmington had no staff, no instructors, no curriculum and no classes but was utilised by undercover Homeland Security agents to identify people involved in immigration fraud.
“All participants in this scheme knew that the University of Farmington had no instructors or classes (neither online nor in-person) and were aware they were committing a crime in an attempt to fraudulently remain in the United States,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement on Monday (4 February).
The State Department’s response came after India issued a demarche to the American Embassy in New Delhi on Saturday (2 February), expressing its concern over the detention of Indian students and sought immediate consular access to them.
Worried about the condition of 129 Indian students , the Government of India issued a demarche demanding that the students be released from detention and are not summarily deported.
Federal prosecutors have been consistently maintaining that the students were aware about the university not running a legitimate operation. But attorneys who have spoken with students or with family and friends of those arrested are pushing back against the government’s claims.
India had sought consular access to its students detained by the US authorities and had impressed upon the Trump administration the need to address the situation at the earliest.
The Indian Embassy in Washington has made an aggressive effort to reach out to these students and, with the help of the community leaders, is providing them with legal help.
The Indian embassy has also set up 24/7 hotline to assist 129 Indian students. It has also appointed a nodal officer to help the students in distress. External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the government was according the “highest priority” to the situation arising out of the detention of Indian students in the US.
India had also highlighted that a distinction should be made between those involved in recruiting or enrolling students and students who have been duped or defrauded in the process. The immigration attorneys claimed that the youths were not aware of the varsity’s illegitimate operation and criticised authorities for using “troubling” methods to trap them.
The university in Detroit’s Farmington Hills was part of an undercover operation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designed to expose immigration fraud, according to federal prosecutors who announced charges in the case.
The ICE agents made the arrests on 30 January, the same day federal indictments were unsealed that charged eight people, all of whom are either Indians or Indo-Americans, in a visa fraud scheme.
Barath Kakireddy, Suresh Kandala, Phanideep Karnati, Prem Rampeesa, Santosh Sama, , Avinash Thakkallapally, Aswanth Nune and Naveen Prathipati were charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit.
According to the indictments, from approximately February 2017 through January 2019, the defendants, a group of foreign citizens, conspired with each other and others to facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals in illegally remaining and working in the United States by actively recruiting them to enroll into a metro Detroit private university that, unbeknownst to the conspirators, was operated by HSI special agents as part of an undercover operation.
As part of the scheme, the defendants/recruiters assisted foreign citizen “students” in fraudulently obtaining immigration documents from the school and facilitated the creation of false student records, including transcripts, for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities. The illegal documents obtained as a result of the conspirators’ actions were based on false claims, false statements, and fraud since the purported foreign students had no intention of attending school, nor attended a single class, and were not bona fide students.
All participants in the scheme knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes. The defendants intended to help shield and hide their customers/students from United States immigration authorities for money and collectively profited in excess of a quarter of a million dollars as a result of their scheme.
"We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa program can also be exploited and abused,” stated United States Attorney Matthew Schneider.
The sweep was one of the largest targeting immigrants from India in recent years, immigration attorneys said.
The arrests took place across the US, in New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston, Michigan, California, Louisiana, North Carolina and St Louis. The students had immigrated legally to the US on student visas and had transferred to the University of Farmington so they could work, said attorneys.
In the first reaction, days after the story broke out, the State Department had described it an unfortunate aberration in the proud history of India-US educational exchanges.
“More than a million international students study at US institutions each year, including approximately 196,000 Indian students last year. Instances of fraud schemes are rare, unfortunate aberrations in the proud history of educational exchange between the United States and India,” the State Department said.
(With agency inputs)
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