Groups Call for Federal Investigation into Fake Government-Run University


The US government created a fake university in 2015 to target international students who were out to commit visa fraud. Now, 40 civil rights groups are calling for a federal investigation into the Department of Homeland Security, saying the government violated the rights of students they say were tricked into the sting operation.

The letter calls on the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Liberties and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta to investigate DHS operations related to the bogus university called Farmington University.

The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security declined to comment.

“International students who were mostly from low-income and vulnerable backgrounds due to the broken immigration system, fell prey to the government,” an anonymous former Farmington student said in a statement. statement.

Farmington was created to target visa fraud among undocumented international students. It was run by undercover Department of Homeland Security agents for years and attracted nearly 600 students who allegedly used the college as a “pay to stay” program, making them look like college students. full-time programs so they can stay in the United States.

The operation came to light in 2019. Former Farmington students had their visa status revoked and could not legally stay in the United States after the government discovered the fake university. Some have been arrested and even detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Eight former Farmington recruiters have been charged with participating in a conspiracy to help foreign nationals stay in the United States illegally.

Overall, former students paid $6 million in tuition and fees to the bogus college. Although Farmington did not run classes or have staff or instructors, the arrangement appeared to be real because the government created a website displaying details of its programs and its non-existent campus, managed university social media and even had a commercial building in Farmington Hills, northwest of Detroit.

Farmington also claimed to be accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Vocational Schools and Colleges, which stated Inside Higher Education in 2019 that it had assisted DHS by listing the university as ACCSC accredited.

The letter

This week’s letter alleges students were unaware that the university they enrolled in was fake and that the federal government violated students’ constitutional rights by terminating their immigration status and detaining some without a hearing. The letter also claims that the federal government had racially targeted the group of students, all of whom were from India except for one Palestinian.

“Students who enrolled at Farmington University were simply attempting to further their education at what they believed to be a legitimate and accredited university in the United States. These students suffered a great injustice at the hands of ICE. In violation of the Constitution, DHS took and refused to return the thousands of dollars the students spent on tuition and fees to attend the fraudulent college, totaling over six million dollars. Further, DHS acted in violation of federal law by terminating the immigration status of students and detaining individuals for an extended period without even an individual hearing,” the letter states.

DHS found that former Farmington students knowingly violated US immigration law relating to the student visa program. A 2019 article from The Detroit News quoted a statement from Derek Benner, who at the time was acting deputy director of ICE and no longer works for DHS, that “people signed up because they saw an opportunity to avoid any academic requirement and, instead, work full-time, which was a violation of their nonimmigrant status.

Benner explained the motivation behind the bogus college program saying, “The investigation has given HSI a better understanding of how recruiters and others abuse the nonimmigrant student visa system. This, in turn, informs and improves DHS’s efforts to uncover fraud in schools, provides insight into networks in the United States that facilitate such abuse, and serves as a deterrent to potential abusers both in the short and long term.”

Students could not stay

The students were contacted by DHS in 2019 saying the college they were attending was bogus and the government revoked their visa status, according to Norris Law Group attorney Anna Nathanson, who currently represents students at a class action lawsuit against the US government.

Nathanson said some of the students were expelled, however, when asked how much she replied, “I don’t feel comfortable providing that.”

A Complaint filed with DHS Civil Rights and Liberties Office in April alleges that the DHS had taken, “thousands of dollars that they [the students] spent on tuition and fees at the fake university. Additionally, in violation of the Constitution and federal law, DHS determined that the students knowingly committed visa fraud, terminated their F-1 student visa status, and detained multiple students without notice.”

Supporters of the former students don’t believe the complaint will bring about much change.

“Although it is a symbolic gesture, it often does not lead to any material result due to the lack of power that [DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties] owns,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, who attached the letter.

Nathanson said most of the students returned to India and were automatically denied when trying to reapply for a US college or work visa because of their status as former Farmington students. “They are currently blacklisted by US immigration authorities,” Nathanson said.

A a class action lawsuit was filed against the US government in September 2020 on behalf of Teja Ravi, a former Farmington student. This specific lawsuit is trying to recover the $6 million paid by former students who attend Farmington.

“Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta has the power to immediately return the more than six million dollars in tuition stolen from these students. In doing so, she could begin to improve the current administration’s dismal record on immigration. “Sridaran said.

Nathanson said many students tried to enroll in other colleges once they found out they weren’t getting lessons from Farmington, but Farmington officials, who were actually DHS agents. , have not approved their transfer.

“They were paying for the tuition but they weren’t getting the tuition, so a lot of them researched other universities and were admitted to other universities, but the staff at Farmington University with whom they were interacting refused to sign their transfers,” Nathanson said. After being denied the chance to transfer, she said the students were basically stuck.

“If they don’t attend a school, they lose their visa. At this point, they’re pretty helpless. There’s not much they can do,” Nathanson said.

In 2019, Vice President Kamala Harris, who at the time was a senator, said on Twitter that the operation “is not only cruel” but also “a waste of taxpayers’ money” and called for those responsible to be held accountable.


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