ICE defends fake university, says students deserved to be deported for 'willfully' violating immigration laws

ICE faced heavy backlash after it used the fake institute to arrest 250 foreign students since January, most of whom were ordered to leave the country

                            ICE defends fake university, says students deserved to be deported for 'willfully' violating immigration laws
(Getty Images)

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which received flak for creating a fake university to lure foreign students, has defended its decision of deporting them after being accused of potential immigration fraud.

The agency had faced heavy backlash after it emerged that the Department of Homeland Security had created a fake university called the University of Farmington. ICE officials used the institute to arrest nearly 250 foreign students since January, including 90 in recent months, according to the Detroit Free Press which released the report on November 27. Many of the students were ordered to leave the country, sparking outrage over the federal agency's scheme.

ICE, however, has now defended its actions with the agency's acting deputy director, Derek Benner, writing a letter to news editors, seeking to "set the record straight".

In a letter published on ICE's website on December 20, Benner said: "Over the past few weeks, the University of Farmington, an undercover investigation run by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), has been the focus of several media reports."

"These reports mischaracterized the purpose and rationale for the investigation, and I want to set the record straight," he continued. "HSI is responsible for enforcing more than 400 federal statutes, including laws related to the student visa system. An estimated 1.2 million non-immigrant students studied at more than 8,200 US schools during 2018, promoting cultural exchange, providing billions of dollars to the US economy, and contributing to research and development," Newsweek reported.

A man calls for the shutdown of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency during a march on May Day, also known as International Workers Day, on May 1, 2019, in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

The ICE deputy director added that some students "exploit the student visa system, allowing foreign nationals to remain in the United States in violation of their non-immigrant status." He also said that the students who chose to enroll in the fake university knew they were choosing to participate in a "pay-to-stay" scheme and therefore "knowingly and willfully violated their non-immigrant visa status and consequently were subject to removal from the United States". 

Benner stated that the students were "not new to the US student visa system", claiming that they had secured visas to enroll at other US schools before transferring to Farmington.

"In addition, prior to enrolling at Farmington, each prospective enrollee was informed that there were no classes, curriculum or teachers at Farmington," he said. "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 non-immigrant status."

ICE officials reportedly told the press that the university was marketed as offering technology and computer studies graduate degrees. Most of the students caught in the operation were Indians. The Detroit office of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, in a statement to the outlet, said: "Nearly 80 percent were granted voluntary departure and departed the United States."
Out of the 20 percent of the remaining students, nearly half of them were given final orders of removal by an immigration judge while the other half contested their deportation orders. The students had arrived legally in the US on student visas. However, they lost their immigration status in January after it was revealed that the University of Farmington was created by federal agents, and was shut down.

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