‘I cannot stay here. It’s so hard. I want to go home’

Ritu Jha –

 

“I am happy to go back if they release me.” That was Ram (name changed), one of the students caught in the fake university sting, on the phone with indica, calling in from the Caroline Detention Facility in Virginia.

Ram was among 130 people arrested January 30, by law enforcement officers and hoping for a quick release. He was enrolled at the University of Farmington, a fake institution set up by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement from 2015 through 2017. The school had 600 students enrolled.

During the call, Ram told indica, “I am not worried about testifying in court, but they say for that I have to stay in jail for six weeks. I agree to leave the country since then it might take less [time to resolve the matter] but no one is telling us anything.”

Asked how serious he was about leaving the US, Ram responded, “I want to go home.” He said he had a hard time when arrived at the detention center, having lost weight because there is little proper vegetarian food to eat.

“It’s been five days and it’s already too much, for me. My body is already half [its old weight],” Ram said, “I cannot stay here. It’s so hard. I want to go home.”

Like many, Ram first came to the US in 2015 as a student of Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU), a non-profit private institution in Fremont, California. He said that among other students held in the facility, there is also an Indian girl.

“I haven’t heard anything about her,” he said, adding that while in the past week Indian embassy official had visited them and taken their names, the students have yet to hear from them.

“What is the status and when they will release us,” Ram said, adding that he is particularly worried about his parents.

Rajiv Shantamraju, a friend of another detainee in the Clay County IN Jail (ICE) in Indiana, told indica that his friend had heard of the arrests and decided to leave the country, but was pulled up by a local police officer and detained.

Rajiv said that, like him, his friend is from Fremont and had joined NPU before transferring to the fake university.

“Overnight everything changed,” he said. In fact, Rajiv added, his friend was arrested Thursday while they were talking over the phone after which, for the next 24 hours, there was no news about him.

“We were worried and called ICE but they denied arresting him. So we were in shock until we saw his name online on February 2. We even tried the embassy number, but they do not respond to the calls and ask you to leave a number. I am not sure when [the friend] will be released.”

Meanwhile, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has issued a demarche to the US Embassy in New Delhi, expressing concern about the conditions the detained students are held in, and urging the US to quickly release the detained Indians and not to deport them against their will.

Attorney Rahul Reddy of Reddy & Neumann said has been hosting conference calls each day about the issue since January 30, and over 840 students had participated the first day. Reddy is representing 13 students, four of them women, in detention.

He told indica there are three categories of students enrolled – one, those who are already detained, two, those not arrested yet, and the third, those who transferred and got optional practical training authorization or changed their visa status before the university was closed down.

“My biggest concern is that there are 20,000 students enrolled in different universities that have a similar pattern – they don’t go to school,” he said.

When the sham Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, California closed down, students were given the option to transfer but they cannot do that here because the university was a sting operation.

“They let go only people who had tickets for to India,” Reddy said. He added that while the earlier university scams were bad, the fact that the students have to navigate the process while the anti-immigrant Trump administration in charge makes it worse for them.

“I absolutely blame the Trump administration,” he said, asserting that the previous administration went after smugglers while this administration is going after students.

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