The University of Farmington looked like a real institution. There was a website with photos of smiling students in class, a college crest and curriculum for aspiring scholars who needed a flexible class schedule. But everything about the university was fake. Well, except the very real concerns about deportation that its enrolled students are experiencing now that news broke that the sham college was used as a sting operation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to Business Insider, which cited a federal grand-jury indictment, Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), an investigative office within ICE, was running the University of Farmington as part of an undercover operation. Hundreds of enrolled students participated in a “pay to stay” scheme where they could live and work in the US with student visas, though they weren’t real students.
The Federal indictments, which were filed on January 15 and made public on January 30, were made against eight people caught in the sting who were allegedly recruiting students into the fake establishment. They were arrested and currently face charges “of harboring aliens for profit and conspiracy to commit visa fraud” for helping at least 600 immigrants stay in the US illegally.
According to The Detroit News, the recruiters allegedly helped foreign nationals fraudulently obtain documents from the university, like student records and transcripts, that they could use to secure student visas. They reportedly “collectively received $250,000 in cash and kickbacks to find students to attend the university.”
“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,” Steve Francis, a special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations office in Detroit, told the newspaper.
The university, which was actually just a basement office, started in 2015 as part of an operation called “Paper Chase.” The News reported that the sting really took off in February 2017, after President Trump took office and set an agenda to crack down on illegal immigration. The operation remained in progress until last month.
The sting puts the phony university’s hundreds of students, many of them Indian nationals who entered the US legally after being accepted into accredited schools and later transferred into the University of Farmington, at risk of deportation.
This is not the only time ICE created a fake school to bust undocumented immigrants. In 2016, agents charged 21 people with student and work visa fraud who had enrolled in the sham University of Northern New Jersey.