As many as 129 Indians were among the 130 foreign students arrested for enrolling at a fake university allegedly to remain in the US, officials said Friday, even as immigration attorneys claimed that the youths were not aware of the university’s illegitimate operation and criticised authorities for using “troubling” methods to trap them.
India has sought consular access to the students and has impressed upon the Trump administration the need to address the situation at the earliest, the MEA said Friday.
The university in Detroit’s Farmington Hills was part of an undercover operation by the Department of Homeland Security designed to expose immigration fraud. In what US authorities called a “pay-to-stay” scheme, foreign students knowingly enrolled in the fake school to falsely maintain their student visa status and remain in the US.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents made the arrests in the early morning hours Wednesday, the same day federal indictments were unsealed that charged eight people, all of whom are either Indian nationals or Indian-Americans — in a visa fraud scheme.
The eight defendants were charged criminally for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit.
In a nationwide sweep, federal agents with ICE arrested “130 foreign nationals on civil immigration charges,” ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell told the Detroit Free Press. The arrests took place across the US, in New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston, Michigan, California, Louisiana, North Carolina, 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.
US prosecutors claim the students were aware the university was not running a legitimate operation. But Ravi Mannam, an immigration attorney in Atlanta, said the government’s fake university “kind of hooked these students”.
Michael Sofo, an attorney with Mannan and Associates, said it’s “not been the case” that they were knowingly participating in an illegal operation.
Meanwhile, External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the government was according the “highest priority” to the situation. He said India has 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.
“As soon as we received the information regarding their detention, our mission contacted the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security requesting for a list of the detained students along with relevant identity details, including the place of their detention,” he said.
“Our Mission and Posts are ready to render all assistance to Indian students. We have also involved Indian community organisations in reaching out to the students,” Kumar said.
— With PTI inputs