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India protests after 129 students arrested in US immigration authorities' fake university sting

Students may have been duped into enrolling, say officials

Peter Stubley
Sunday 03 February 2019 15:56 GMT
The University of Farmington, which had a website and Facebook page, was set up by undercover ICE agents
The University of Farmington, which had a website and Facebook page, was set up by undercover ICE agents (ICE)

India has urged the US to release 129 students who were arrested for enrolling at a fake university set up to expose immgration fraud.

The ministry of external affairs said it was concerned that its citizens may have been “duped” into enlisting at the University of Farmington in Michigan and called for them not to be deported against their will.

It said it had made a démarche, a formal diplomatic request or protest, to the US Embassy in New Delhi.

“Our concern over the dignity and well-being of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

“We underlined that students, who may have been duped into enrolling in the ‘university’, should be treated differently from those recruiters who have duped them.

“We have urged the US side to share full details and regular updates of the students with the Government, to release them from detention at the earliest and not to resort to deportation against their will.”

Undercover agents with the Department of Homeland Security had posed as the owners and employees of the university in the suburbs of Detroit since February 2017.

Farmington billed itself as a “nationally accredited business and STEM institution” – but had no curriculum, no classes and no real students, according to officials.

Eight “recruiters”, who are said to have made around $250,000 (£191,000) in profit by enlisting more than 600 people, have been charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also detained 130 people who had enrolled at the university - all but one of them from India, according to reports.

“Homeland Security Investigations special agents uncovered a nationwide network that grossly exploited US immigration laws,” said Steve Francis, the special agent in charge said in a statement.

“These suspects aided hundreds of foreign nationals to remain in the United States illegally by helping to portray them as students, which they most certainly were not. All participants in the scheme knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes.”

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The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said officials had contacted around 30 detained students and was working to contact the others. A 24-hour helpline has been set up at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC.

“The government of India and the Indian Embassy and consulates in the United States attach the highest priority to the welfare of the detained students and will continue to work with the US authorities and other stakeholders to address the issue,” it added.

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