Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has defended itself amid claims it unfairly enticed migrants into enrolling at fake universities during an undercover investigation run by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The federal law enforcement agency shared video footage on Dec. 20 proving students acknowledged that they wouldn’t be taking any classes at the fake university and that the scheme was also illegal.
In an accompanying press release, Acting Deputy Director, Derek Benner, said he hoped to address the public’s misconceptions about the ICE’s undercover investigation and “set the record straight.”
“Over the past few weeks, the University of Farmington (Farmington), an undercover investigation run by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), has been the focus of several media reports,” he wrote.
“These reports mischaracterized the purpose and rationale for the investigation, and I want to set the record straight. HSI is responsible for enforcing more than 400 federal statutes, including laws related to the student visa system.
“An estimated 1.2 million nonimmigrant students studied at more than 8,200 U.S. schools during 2018, promoting cultural exchange, providing billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, and contributing to research and development.
“Criminals and some students, however, exploit the student visa system, allowing foreign nationals to remain in the United States in violation of their nonimmigrant status.”
Benner then explained that nonimmigrant students who enroll in a study program must abide by U.S. law in order to maintain their non-immigrant status and “make normal progress towards completing a course of study,” and those that don’t risk being arrested and removed from the country.
The Acting Deputy Director said that those students who enrolled at Farmington had “knowingly and willfully violated their nonimmigrant visa status and consequently were subject to removal from the United States.”
Benner said that the students who enrolled were “not new to the U.S. student visa system.” These students knew the visa requirements and had been informed that there were “no classes, curriculum, or teachers at Farmington.”
“Despite this, individuals enrolled because they saw an opportunity to avoid any academic requirements and, instead, work full-time, which was a violation of their nonimmigrant status,” he said.
Benner also praised the agency’s efforts to uncover fraud within the U.S. student visa system, adding that it provided a “better understanding of how recruiters and others abuse the nonimmigrant student visa system” and served as a deterrent to future potential violators.
“Farmington is a clear example of a pay-to-stay scheme, which is against the law and, not only creates a dangerous lack of accountability, but also diminishes the quality and integrity of the U.S. student visa system,” he said
“HSI is responsible for investigating these kinds of violations, which is precisely what it did by establishing Farmington to investigate a complex fraud scheme used across the country to undermine U.S. laws and individuals’ safety.”
A total of 250 students were arrested in connection with the fake University of Farmington, of which nearly 80 percent have voluntarily left the country, TIME reports.
However, the investigation has drawn criticism from several political leaders, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass).
“This is cruel and appalling. These students simply dreamed of getting the high-quality higher education America can offer. ICE deceived and entrapped them, just to deport them,” Warren wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez Wrote on Twitter: “I saw members voting YES w/o even a summary of the bill. Nobody cared then how we’d pay for it. Now ICE is setting up fake universities to trap students. Yet we were called radical for opposing it.”
Defense attorneys for the students have maintained that they were tricked into enrolling and didn’t realize the university was fake, according to the Detroit Free Press.