DETROIT – About 90 additional foreign students at a fake university in metro Detroit created by the Department of Homeland Security have been arrested in recent months.
A total of about 250 students have now been arrested since January on immigration violations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of a sting operation by federal agents who enticed foreign-born students, mostly from India, to attend the school that marketed itself as offering graduate programs in technology and computer studies, according to ICE officials.
Many of those arrested have been deported, while others are contesting their removals. One has been allowed to stay after being granted lawful permanent resident status by an immigration judge.
The students had arrived legally in the U.S. on student visas, but since the University of Farmington was later revealed to be a creation of federal agents, they lost their immigration status after it was shut down in January. The school was staffed with undercover agents posing as university officials.
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Out of the approximately 250 students arrested on administrative charges, “nearly 80% were granted voluntary departure and departed the United States,” the Detroit office of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations told the Free Press in a statement Tuesday.
Of the remaining 20%, about half have received a final order of removal; some were ordered removed by an immigration judge, and others “were given an expedited removal by U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” HSI Detroit said.
The remaining 10% “have either filed for some sort of relief or are contesting their removals with Executive Office for Immigration Review,” HSI Detroit said.
ICE said in March that 161 students had been arrested, a number that has now grown to about 250.
Meanwhile, seven of the eight recruiters who were criminally charged with trying to recruit students have pleaded guilty and been sentenced in Detroit. The remaining defendant will be sentenced in January.
Attorneys for the students arrested said that they were unfairly trapped by the U.S. government since the Department of Homeland Security had said on its website that the university was legitimate. An accreditation agency that was working with the U.S. on its sting operation also listed the university as legitimate.
Fake university believed to have collected millions of dollars
There were more than 600 students enrolled at the university, which was created a few years ago by federal law enforcement officials with ICE. Records filed with the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs show that the University of Farmington was incorporated in January 2016.
Many of the students had enrolled with the university through a program known as Curricular Practical Training, which allows students to work in the U.S through a F-1 visa program for foreign students. Some had transferred to the University of Farmington from other schools that had lost accreditation, which means they would no longer be allowed to remain in the U.S.
Emails obtained by the Free Press this year showed how the fake university attracted students to the school, which cost about $12,000 on average in tuition and fees per year.
The U.S. “trapped the vulnerable people who just wanted to maintain (legal immigration) status,” Rahul Reddy, a Texas attorney who represented or advised some of the students arrested, told the Free Press this week. “They preyed upon on them.”
The fake university is believed to have collected millions of dollars from the unsuspecting students. An email from the university’s president, Ali Milani, told students that graduate programs’ tuition is $2,500 per quarter and that the average cost is $1,000 per month.
“They made a lot of money,” Reddy said of the U.S. government.
No one has filed a lawsuit or claim against the U.S. government for collecting the money or for allegedly entrapping the students.
Attorneys for ICE and the Department of Justice maintain that the students should have known it was not a legitimate university because it did not have classes in a physical location. Some CPT programs have classes combined with work programs at companies.
“Their true intent could not be clearer,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Helms wrote in a sentencing memo this month for one of the eight recruiters, of the hundreds of students enrolled. “While ‘enrolled’ at the University, one hundred percent of the foreign citizen students never spent a single second in a classroom. If it were truly about obtaining an education, the University would not have been able to attract anyone, because it had no teachers, classes, or educational services.”
In the memo, federal prosecutor Baker said the case raises questions about the U.S. “foreign-student visa program.”
Baker wrote that “immigration and visa programs have been hot-button topics in the United States for years and national scrutiny has only been increasing.”
Reddy said, though, that in some cases, students who transferred from the University of Farmington after realizing they didn’t have classes on-site, were still arrested.
Detroit ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said the recruiters sentenced so far include Barath Kakireddy, 29, of Lake Mary, Florida, 18 months; Suresh Kandala, 31, of Culpeper, Virginia, 18 months; Santosh Sama, 28, of Fremont, California, 24 months; Avinash Thakkallapally, 28, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 15 months; Aswanth Nune, 26, of Atlanta, 12 months; Naveen Prathipati, 26, of Dallas, 12 months.
Phanideep Karnati, 35, of Louisville, Kentucky, is to be sentenced in January.