Four members of Congress, including Indian American Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Feb. 6, expressing concern for the 129 Indian students who were arrested in a sting operation targeting the University of Farmington in Michigan.
The students were arrested in various parts of the U.S. Jan. 30 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement; more than 600 students face possible detention. Twenty-nine were released from custody Feb. 9 and were scheduled to undergo hearings Feb. 11 and 12 to determine if they will be allowed to stay in the country or deported back to India, according to the Andhra Pradesh Non-Resident Telugu Society.
ICE and DHS contend that the Indian students — who paid as much as $24,000 to fake recruiters to enroll in the sham college set up by DHS — knowingly engaged in immigration fraud by enrolling in a university that had no onsite classes.
Under the rules of the Student Exchange and Visitor’s Program, which allows foreign students to enroll in U.S. universities, only three credits each semester may be taken online; the rest must be taken in a classroom.
In their letter to Nielsen, the congressmen noted that Homeland Security Investigations, a division of ICE, had begun the sting operation in 2015, and had been operating the fake university at Farmington since 2017. The sham operation was set up to target eight Indian American recruiters who were also arrested in the sting.
“We urge DHS and ICE to ensure the detained students are treated properly and afforded all rights provided to them under the law, including access to an attorney and release on bond if they are eligible,” wrote the congressmen in their letter to Nielsen. “We further urge DHS and ICE to share full details and updates regarding the Indian students with the Embassy and Consulates of India, and to facilitate consular access for the detainees.”
The members of Congress noted that India is a key strategic partner for the U.S., and that students from India represented more than one-fifth of international students enrolled in U.S. universities. “These students are a vital pillar of the people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, and they come to the U.S. on the grounds of merit,” they wrote.
Reps. Thomas Suozzi, D-New York; Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan; and Rob Woodall, R-Georgia signed the letter, along with Krishnamoorthi.
In a statement, ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said: "ICE remains committed to ensuring its facilities adhere to ICE’s detention standards which provide several levels of oversight in order to ensure that residents in ICE custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments."
The Indian Embassy in Washington, DC, also wrote a letter of concern, noting that students were “duped” into enrolling in the sham university. “We have urged the U.S. side to share full details and regular updates of the students with the Government, to release them from detention at the earliest and not to resort to deportation against their will,” said the Embassy in a press statement Feb. 5.
The Hindustan Times reported that many students who contacted the university before enrolling were told that classes were currently full and that no professors were available. Farmington said it would contact them when classes became available, but apparently never sent such details: only invoices for tuition fees.
Federal agents posed as university officials to trick the students, say attorneys. (See earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2SwnS1t)