Ritu Jha –
Students are chained, not given proper food and are terrified, according to a relative of one of the students caught in the fake university sting set up by US authorities.
They are among hundreds of people enrolled at the University of Farmington, a fake university set up by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who was arrested on January 30.
The “pay to stay” scheme was set up to identify recruiters engaged in immigration fraud.
Raj told indica that it was around 7 am Wednesday when an officer arrived at his home in Los Angeles armed with a big file and asked him about his cousin. Asked what his cousin had done wrong, the officer said his visa was out of status because the university was shut down two hours before. He was working on a curricular practical training(CPT) authorization at AT&T.
Raj said he realized that if the officer had all the details about his cousin and was at his door two hours after the university closed down, there was clearly a lot of scrutiny of his cousin.
“I still did not believe him and asked him to show me his ID, and then let him [his cousin] go with the officer.” His cousin was taken to the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, California.
“My cousin was terrified,” Raj said. “And it’s been 48 hours and I am not able to sleep. He is still in the detention center and has to appear in Immigration court on Monday.”
He said he was not sure what the Indian consulate and community organizations have done to help his cousin.
“My cousin is still in jail,” Raj pointed out. “They could have let him go if he seeks to voluntarily leave the country but he is stuck until Monday in jail. I don’t want him deported.”
Rohit Rathish, deputy consul general in San Francisco, told indica Thursday evening that a few students had been arrested and then released.
“Nobody has been detained as per the authorities,” he said. “We are following up on developments very closely.”
Asked if he had met any of those held, Rathish said, “No, we haven’t met the students yet because they have all been released.” He then added, “We are staying in touch with the students and trying to offer all possible help.”
But Raj told indica there are students still in the detention center.
“My cousin is still inside,” he said. “We are looking for a good attorney for him.”
Chandra Poola, a Bay Area resident, who is a friend of Prem Rampersad, one of the eight recruiters arrested said, “The situation is very tense. Most of these students were graduates of NPU [Northwestern Polytechnic University] in Fremont.” He said Rampersad also used to live in Fremont but moved to New Jersey a year ago.
According to Chandra, like many students who had trouble with accreditation in 2017 and failed to get an H-1B visa, Rampersad had to transfer to another university to maintain his visa status. Chandra said Rampersad was relieved to get the admission and was not sure if the university was a fake one and was just happy to earn referral fees by bringing in new students.
“After he moved, we lost in touch,” said Chandra who believes Rampersad must have enrolled more than 200 students, believing he was helping them. He said most of the students enrolled at the fake University of Farmington were originally students of NPU.
Chandra said a few people he knew were picked up at 6:30 am on Wednesday from Fremont, California. His friend’s roommate got picked up by an ICE agent who took them away for questioning while not letting them take their cell phones.
“We thought he would be released by end of the day but he was jailed,” said Chandra.
Another student in North Carolina who has also been jailed is in need of help. His friend posted, “He is chained and not been given proper food.”
Chandra, a software engineer, said most of these students joined in good faith thinking that since they already had master’s degrees in computer science, paying $3,500 per semester to get CPT authorization was all right. Many joined up because the other option they had, optional practical training (OPT) was running out.
But Homeland Security Investigations, which ran the sting, said that the eight students conspired with each other and others to fraudulently help more than 600 foreign nationals to illegally remain and work in the United States by actively recruiting them to enroll, in the process getting receiving $250,000 in cash.
According to the officials, as part of the scheme, the defendants/recruiters helped foreign “students” fraudulently obtain immigration documents from the school and then created false student records, including transcripts, to deceive immigration authorities.
The documents were based on false claims, false statements, and fraud since these were not bona fide students and did not attend a single class.