Photo: Building listed at the address for the fake University of Farmington which ICE used as a way to entrap unsuspecting immigrant students.
By Nélida Tello
In recent months, 90 students from the University of Farmington (UF) have been arrested for immigration violations after being entrapped in the fake university created by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The university was shut down in January of this year when it lost its accreditation, but it has continued to jeopardize the lives of unsuspecting students this year.
Initially when federal agents shut down the university, located in the Detroit Metropolitan Area, over 130 arrests were made for immigration violations. The more recent arrests have raised that total to 250. Of those arrested, the majority have been deported to India, with the exception of one Palestinian deported to the West Bank.
The majority of the Indian deportees are from the state of Andhra Pradesh, where 70% of the population live in the countryside and sustain the state’s agriculture and mining sectors. While enrolled in master’s degrees, many students worked to help their families back home. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees ICE, preyed on the desperation of international students seeking to escape the semifeudal and semicolonial conditions of their countries to work in the US.
In an attempt to make an example out of these students, DHS portrayed UF as a legitimate university where students could work through the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program and study with F-1 visas. DHS went as far as to incorporate the university as a licensed institution through the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs in January 2016.
In an email thread responding to a potential international student, a federal agent posing as UF president “Ali Milani” wrote, “Thank you for your recent interest in The University of Farmington, a nationally accredited business and STEM […] institution.”
These emails from a fake president were not the only way that federal agents lured international students. ICE’s website also displayed UF as an approved university for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS). ICE uses SEVIS to tract nonimmigrant students and visitors in the US.
In a sentencing memo, trial attorney Brandon Helms’ wrote, “Their true intent could not be clearer […] one hundred percent of the foreign citizen students never spent a single second in a classroom. [the University] had no teachers, classes, or educational services.”
Students were charged $12,000 a year to attend the university and UF collected millions in the span of three years. Students were forced to take loans out in order to pay for tuition, none of which has been returned despite the revelation of UF being a front for ICE operations. The accumulated loan debt has followed students after being deported.
DHS has used the University of Farmington as an example of international students “abusing” visas, yet it was the US government itself which lured the students here, employing a fascist logic to toy with their lives and justify the US’s draconian immigration policy.
Agencies such as ICE come up with these schemes to create propaganda opportunities and inflate their budgets, while the lives of oppressed peoples are merely numbers in their apprehension quotas.