Farmington ‘students’ hang in limbo

Ritu Jha-

 

“It’s hard, no one can do anything, not even the Indian consulate,” said Raj, the cousin of a student detained at Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, California. His cousin, arrested on January 30 from Raj’s home in Los Angeles at around 7 am, was one of 160 people enrolled as students at the fake University of Farmington who have been in jail for two weeks.

“ICE had administratively arrested 160 foreign nationals enrolled at the University of Farmington for civil immigration violations,” ICE spokesperson, Khaalid Walls told indica. The number of those detained has been raised from the 149 announced last week.

According to Raj, the Indian government has been involved in the matter but that may have no effect.

“Yes,” he said, “the consulate people arrived met the students and left. I don’t think they can do anything. It’s up to the judges. They have set up a bail bond at $23,000.”

Raj’s cousin and other students had a hearing last Friday.

Raj said his attorney has requested to reduce the bail amount. Despite agreeing on Friday the judge had yet to sign the paper. Now the next hearing is tomorrow.

“They say they … are served mashed potato and beans – food they cannot eat. Most of the students are surviving on a cup of noddle, which is cheap for 50 cents,” Raj said. “They don’t blame anyone but themselves and want to go home.”

Over 600 students were enrolled at the fake university, a sting operation run by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE said the students were using a “pay to stay” scheme, set up by recruiters engaged in immigration fraud.

According to reports, some have got out on bail but the majority are still in various ICE detention facilities in the US, making this the largest mass-scale arrest of Indian students. The students came to the US legally, many were enrolled in Northwestern Polyclinic University, in Fremont, California, which has faced allegations of being a visa mill. To maintain their status, the NPU students apparently enrolled in the University of Farmington, not realizing it was a sting operation.

“Many of these students and my cousin kept asking when will classes start and should we come over and were told not to come yet and that classes would start soon,” Raj said.

Preet Singh, an immigration attorney in Houston, said his clients were a couple of victims of the fake university. Both were working on an authorization under curricular practical training. The wife was allowed to leave the country because she is pregnant but the husband was jailed.

Singh said the couple also asked when the classes would begin as they worked.

“Now the wife keeps calling each day to find about his status and bail,” Singh said.

Court paper suggest the students knew it was a fake university. Eight of them – Bharath Kakireddy, Aswanth Nune, Suresh Reddy Kandala,Phanideep Karnati, Prem Kumar Rampeesa, Santosh Reddy Sama, Avinash Thakkallapally and Naveen Prathipati – who allegedly lured hundreds of students, have pleaded not guilty.

A few former students of Farmington who are on H-1B visas were denied entry to the US, according to Immigration attorney Rahul Reddy.

“This happened last Thursday. They were once students of the University of Farmington,” he said, adding that two people are reported to have been sent back yet.

When asked which state he said one was in Chicago. The reason why they are sending them back was that they were on student visas (Farmington) when they applied for H-1B.

“The custom and border protection unit has the authority to act if there anything was wrong done when applying for a visa. If the information they give is contradictory and if they think the students are not eligible for the visa they can deny it. That is the law,” Reddy told indica.

Reddy said if students who have not been detained should leave the country, If they have been detained, he said, their best option could be to seek a voluntary departure.

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