Washington, DC – Indian diplomats across the United States were on a war footing to help Indian students as the US law and order enforcement agencies, specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, arrested students mostly from India while eight Indian origin brokers were also arrested.
The US State Department referred IAT to the Department of Homeland Security but both ICE and DHS did not respond to requests for comments on Thursday.
According to the court document seen by IAT, the sting operation by the DHS was used to offer foreign nationals a chance to enroll in a fake university in Michigan and for them to use student status to extend US visa privileges.
The indictment alleged: “Each of the foreign citizens who “enrolled” and made “tuition” payments to the University knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study – a “pay to stay” scheme. Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorization under the CPT program.”
“Each student knew that the University’s program was not approved by the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), was illegal, and that discretion should be used when discussing the program with others,” read the indictment.
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A grand jury indicted the alleged eight recruiters on Jan. 15, but the records were ordered unsealed on Wednesday by David R. Grand, United States Magistrate Judge. The request to unseal the indictment was made because several defendants were arrested and were entitled to receive a copy of the Indictment.
Eight men who now face felony charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, are Barath Kakireddy, Suresh Reddy Kandala, Phanideep Karnati, Prem Kumar Rampeesa, Santosh Reddy Sama, Avinash Thakkallapally, Naveen Prathipati and Aswanth Nune, according the federal indictment. Moreover there are reports of students in the hundreds being arrested from all over the US.
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The opening sentences of the allegations in the indictment read: “From approximately February 2017 through January 2019, the defendants, a group of foreign citizens acting in concert with each other and others, assisted at least 600 other foreign citizens to illegally remain, re-enter and work in the United States, and actively recruited them to enroll into a fraudulent school as part of a “pay to stay” scheme. Because of their recruiting success, this alliance collectively profited in excess of quarter of a million dollars.”
Ironically the University of Farmington neither had any professors nor any schedules to hold any classes — but the brokers and facilitators continued to entice the gullible students, who just wanted to use the sham school to stay in the US illegally. To remain in the US on a student visa, individuals must be enrolled in a school and working toward a degree. If not, they must leave within 60 days.
Legals, NGO Reactions
Attorney Ravi Batra from New York in a statement to IAT said, “The rule of law is not a trifle, and purposeful violation of same invites a mandate to punish and exclude the violator while imprisoning the profiteering trafficker. America must honor her own laws, if any of us can enjoy the right to live free.”
Echoing Batra’s sentiments, Attorney Devang Shah, partner in Shah and Kishore Immigration Law firm noted, “Some of these foreign students may allege that they were hoodwinked by the brokers. However ignorance of the law is never an excuse.” Shah continued, “Every foreign student must be aware or make themselves aware of requirements to stay with a legal status. It is absurd to think that at the very least the student does not know he/she must attend classes to be in valid status.”
“Unfortunately such rare fraudulent cases taints the debate for immigration reform. We have over one million foreign students in the United States,” said Shah, stressing that the level of fraud, “is a minuscule percentage of students in remaining in valid legal status.”
Mohan Nannapaneni from TEAM Aid, a volunteer organization trying to help the students in distress said, “We sought the intervention of (Indian) external affairs ministry and further relief for the students through proper channels.” Expressing his opinion that the students “coming from India have lot less opportunities than before,” Nannapaneni warned, “but they should not be desperate and ignore the law. They should have verified if the university is accredited and trustworthy or not as they were risking their future.”
Nannapaneni had a word of caution for the students still in the US: “On behalf of TEAM AiD, at the same time, we warned other students that there are few universities on the verge of closure so they should check the credibility of those universities.”
On Thursday evening, the once welcoming website of the University of Farmington, was gone and was replaced with a page cautioning: “The University of Farmington has been closed by the US Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” with an advise: “Affected student should contact their local Homeland Security Investigations office. https://www.ice.gov/contact/hsi,” which provides the contact details of Homeland Security Investigation Principal Field Offices across the US.
Embassy of India Responds
The Embassy of India in Washington DC, however, in a statement to IAT said: “The Indian Embassy in Washington and Indian Consulates across the US have been in touch with Indian community and Indian student associations in the US as well as US authorities to provide those detained with consular assistance.”
IAT has come to learn from various sources following the developments that the Indian diplomats are working on a war-footing to engage local organizations, lawyers in the vicinity and providing all possible help to the arrested Indian students. Indian diplomats across the US are expected to monitor the court proceedings of relevant cases as the dates of appearances are announced and to provide all legal help with the help of local communities.
There is also a school of thought that many of the students might not have understood the implications of strict US laws on the use of entrapment compared to their own domestic law in India which only seeks evidence to establish guilt. The genuineness reflected in the website presentation and word of mouth assurances might have played a major role in enrollment of a majority of gullible Indian students. Legal advice is also being sought on the role of US Consulates that granted visas to the concerned students. Did they do so despite knowing about the entrapment or did they also feel Farmington was a genuine university ?