US immigration officials set up fake university to track down foreigners

World Today

The U.S. immigration officials are using creative tactics to track down foreigners who are in the country illegally. For instance, setting up a fake university.

CGTN’s Dan Williams reports from the U.S. state of Michigan.

Perched next to a busy road, some 30 kilometers outside of Detroit, Michigan, is the campus for the University of Farmington.

The website described a college that would ‘prepare students to succeed in an ever globalizing economy.’

Except it wasn’t a university at all.

It was an undercover operation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—a fake university to lure fraudulent recruiters, and foreign nationals ready to pay for documentation needed to stay in the country on U.S. visas without actually attending classes.

The sting led to the arrest of 161 foreign nationals.

Russell Abrutyn is an immigration law attorney who represented some of those arrested.

“It started out of the blue,” said Abrutyn. “I started receiving calls from concerned family members about their loved ones who were picked up by immigration customs and they thought it had something to do with the school they attended.”

Eight people, who allegedly acted as recruiters, were charged with criminal violations.

But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintain all of the 600 enrolled students knew the university was fake.

Attorneys said that is not the case.

“People were shocked and surprised as they were attending a school which they thought was a real school. Because for almost all of them, this was their first time in a jail and they didn’t want to stay in jail for any longer than they needed to,” said Abrutyn. “Almost all of the students agreed at their first court hearing to leave the country voluntarily. Many of them won’t be able to return to the U.S. in the future.”

Most of the students were from India. The India consular office set up a hotline for impacted students.

It is not the first time ICE has created a sham university.

In 2016, the agency set up the University of Northern New Jersey and claimed one thousand students were aware they were participating in a fraud.

“It’s been part of our government policy to try to set up fake universities with the intention of possibly catching recruiters and using this as a deterrent mechanism of some kind,” said Claudia Flores from the University of Chicago Law School. “And there are concerns of elements of entrapment to this although it is unclear what the students did and didn’t know.”

If nothing else, attorneys say the case has highlighted one clear point: students looking to avoid a similar fate must ensure their college is 100 percent genuine before signing up.