ICE set up fake universities: Appeals court rules students can sue US over it


ICE set up fake universities: Appeals court rules students can sue US over it


A federal appeals court has ruled that students who enrolled in a fake Michigan university set up by immigration officials have the right to sue the U.S. government.



Last
week's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit means that hundreds of students who paid tuition fees at Farmington University in Farmington Hills, a school set up by undercover agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have legal grounds to withdraw their tuition fees and pursue their claims in court. Farmington Hills is about 32 miles northwest of Detroit.



A
lawsuit was filed in 2020 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit against the U.S. government by Teja Ravi and lawyers representing other students enrolled at

Farmington University. Farmington University was closed by ICE after agents arrested about 250 students. The lawsuit claims that the government stole about $11,000 per student per year in tuition fees and violated its contract with the students. The students are seeking refunds and other punitive damages.



The
Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Detroit Free Press. The Detroit Free Press is part of the USA TODAY Network. ICE has previously said it is working to combat visa fraud.



A
court dismissed the suit in 2022 on technical grounds, saying it lacked jurisdiction. Three appeals court judges reversed the decision on June 25 and sent the case back to the Court of Appeals.


"This
decision is not only a legal victory, but a moral victory," Prudhvi Raj, a former student at the university, said in a statement on June 28. "It underscores that no one, not even the government, can be above the fundamental principles of fairness and integrity. ... We are grateful for this outcome and remain faithful to our commitment to justice."



ICE
began its covert operation in 2015, setting up fake offices with websites and admissions procedures similar to those of regular universities. Farmington University was also listed on the ICE website as a U.S. government-certified university for its students.



It
seemed like a reality for the more than 600 students, most of whom were immigrants from India and interested in studying engineering and science. Many of the students were living and working legally in the U.S. through college programs like those advertised by Farmington University. The students had entered the U.S. legally and had F-1 student visas at the time of enrollment.


But
this was an elaborate ploy by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations to scam international students who were allegedly trying to "pay to stay in the U.S.," a claim the students deny. ICE arrested hundreds of students, deporting many of them, while others left the U.S. on their own.



"The
U.S. government refuses to take responsibility for the financial burden on parents who have been separated from their children, and on couples and families who have been separated as a result of this," said Anna Nathanson, an attorney who represented the students in court. "Justice is urgently needed."



Records
show that the Department of Homeland Security did everything it could to deceive the students, according to their lawyers.


The
fake university was established in Michigan in January 2016, according to records from the state Department of Licensing and Regulation. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, which cooperated with the U.S. sting operation, also listed the university as legitimate. The Free Press previously obtained emails and secret recordings from ICE that shed some light on how the operation was carried out.