Don’t Apply to The University of Farmington

The U.S. government created a fake university to try to catch foreign nationals who were abusing the system, and many people say that they overstepped.
(U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

The U.S. government created a fake university to try to catch foreign nationals who were abusing the system, and many people say that they overstepped. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

André Souza, Reporter

Five years ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hatched an elaborate plan. Their goal was to catch people who were illegally using their education visas to stay in the United States by creating a fake university, but many people say it went too far.

It started in 2015, when the DHS became concerned about what they saw as abuse of the student visa program and wanted to launch an investigation.

They decided to fabricate a college called, “The University of Farmington.” This university had a website, complete with a mission statement, a list of majors and minors, and pictures of fake students.

It also had a building on the outskirts of Detroit staffed by undercover DHS and ICE agents, a Facebook page, and was listed on the U.S. government’s official website as a reputable university.

More than 600 students enrolled, mostly from India, and according to The Detroit Free Press, 250 have been arrested, of which 80% were deported.

This is where some people started to take issue with what was happening. After everything was set up, the DHS started to recruit international students to enroll.

These students had no way of knowing that they had just set themselves up for deportation. They also payed a minimum of 200 U.S. dollars to enroll in addition to the school’s tuition.

The DHS argued that when the students saw that there were no physical classes – meaning on-site classes – they should have realized it was not a legitimate university.

This means that the students had to come all the way to this small suburb of Detroit from wherever they were living, find a place to live, potentially find a job, and settle in before arriving at the 70’s-style office buildings to find that there was never a real University of Farmington.

Some students did alert the university when they couldn’t find any classes, but kept getting the runaround from the ICE agents working there.

According to Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press, “The attorneys for [the students] are saying that in some cases, the students did alert the university and say, ‘Hey, where are the classes? I thought there were going to be classes.’ Some of them even transferred out.

But even those students are now in legal trouble. So some of them have gotten arrested and are losing their immigration status.”

Keep in mind that the crime that ICE was trying to bust these students for was using college in order to get a U.S. visa, and then not actually going to college.

However, even the students that actually wanted to attend classes and earn a degree have been deported or arrested. They have been taken to detention centers in Detroit and often housed with violent criminals.

Another thing that ICE and the DHS were trying to do was find agencies in other countries that recruit students to American schools to get F1 student visas.

According to Karin Fischer of the Chronicle of Higher Education, “If you go to India, you will see there are agencies that will help connect people who want to both study and work in foreign countries…

And obviously, ICE was able to really tap into that kind of underground network of people who want to circumvent the visa system.”

In this aspect, ICE was able to be successful in what they were trying to do.

Take Phanideep Karnati, an Indian-born father of two, living in the U.S., for example. He was connected to one of those agencies in India and worked as an unaffiliated recruiter for the University of Farmington, recruiting thirty-nine students in all.

He recently was sentenced to six months in federal prison, and his immigration status was revoked for his part in the sting.

He received a lighter sentence than many of the other recruiters affiliated with the case, with some doing up to twenty-four months of time.

Karnati said in court that he didn’t realize that the university was illegitimate, but the judge claimed that even if he initially thought it was real, he later knew it wasn’t.

In response to recent reports about the human rights violations occurring at the University of Farmington, ICE responded with a press release of their own, explaining, “These reports mischaracterized the purpose and rationale for the investigation…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.”

In ICE’s efforts to “protect the homeland,” they found the fraudulent visa recruiters and the student’s who used it to live in the U.S., but they also arrested and deported many innocent students who were just looking for an education.

In the ongoing war between The Department of Homeland Security and immigration, an increasing number of people are being caught in the crossfire and receiving no justice.