India urges U.S. to release students detained in fake Michigan university sting

Tuesday 5 February 2019 1:54 AM UTC

WASHINGTON Feb 5: India’s government is urging the U.S. to release 129 Indian foreign students who were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for enrolling in a fake university in metro Detroit that had been created by ICE to lure people trying to remain here on student visas.

In a strongly-worded statement, India’s Minister of External Affairs expressed concern about the arrests of Indian students, calling their welfare its “highest priority.”

India asked the U.S. not to deport the students, many of whom were trying to work and earn master’s degrees.

“We have urged the U.S. side to share full details and regular updates of the students with the Government, to release them from detention at the earliest and not to resort to deportation against their will,” read the statement issued Saturday.

Last week, ICE detained 130 students, 129 from India and one Palestinian, who had been enrolled at the University of Farmington in Farmington Hills, a fake university created by investigators with ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

The government alleges the students enrolled in the fake university so they could remain in the U.S. on a student visa, while knowing they wouldn’t be taking actual classes.

The university posed as a legitimate place for foreign students, many of them trying to earn master’s degrees. More than 600 students enrolled in what federal prosecutors call a “pay to stay” scheme.

The students’ arrests on civil immigration charges have sparked civil rights concerns from advocates who say the U.S. government tricked unsuspecting people.

They say it’s legitimate for foreign students to enroll in university programs that allow them to work, which is what the students at the University of Farmington were doing.

Separately, federal prosecutors in Detroit have criminally charged 8 other people alleged to be recruiters who brought in students in exchange for fees and kickbacks, according to federal indictments unsealed Wednesday. The 130 students are not criminally charged and so should be treated differently, said India’s government.

The Indian government said it “continues to closely monitor and take proactive measures to address the situation arising out of the detention of several Indian students in connection with their enrollment in a fraudulent university in the United States.”

India has set up a hotline and also is working on providing legal help. The Indian government expressed their concerns to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

“Our concern over the dignity and well-being of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated,” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

“We underlined that students, who may have been duped into enrolling in the ‘University’ should be treated differently from those recruiters who have duped them.”

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