The detention of Indian students by US authorities is unwarranted and detrimental for relations between the two countries.
- US Immigration & Customs Enforcement Agency detained 129 Indian students over allegations of violation of immigration rules.
- The Agency conducted raids on a fake university and alleges that the students knowingly enrolled in it to extend their stay in the US.
- In fact, the agency had itself set up this university to entrap students who enrolled in the university.
- Defence attorneys have deemed the methods used by the Agency to be highly questionable.
A major diplomatic standoff ensued between India and the US over the past few days with the detention of 129 Indian students over allegations of violating immigration rules by US authorities.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency detained these students after conducting raids on a fake university in Farmington Hills – University of Farmington. Authorities plan to have them deported to India. If that happens, they will be out of contention for a visa application to study in the US for at least two years. Moreover, this will be a blot on their credentials even if they were to apply again.
The Indian embassy issued a démarche to the American embassy in New Delhi, expressing concern over the developments and seeking consular access to the students. It secured access to 117 students as of Tuesday.
The State Department insists that these students were aware of their crime and had enrolled in the university to be able to stay in the US.
SEASONED CRIMINALS OR VICTIMS OF ENTRAPMENT
The investigating unit of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had in fact set up this fake university to expose the ‘pay and stay’ racket. Eight people (who are either Indian or Indian American) were also arrested for allegedly running the racket and have pleaded ‘not guilty’ at a Michigan court.
A spokesperson of the State Department stated, “All participants in this scheme knew that the University of Farmington had no instructors or classes (neither online nor in-person) and were aware they were committing a crime in an attempt to fraudulently remain in the United States.”
Indeed, the fake university did not run any classes, charged low tuition fees and even provided work permits as soon as a student took admission. A majority of the 600 students enrolled in this university are Indians. The authorities have also radio tagged some students, and their movement is restricted.
Immigration attorneys have condemned the ‘troubling’ methods used by the authorities to trap these students. Criticism has also come from distinguished Indian Americans as well as a section of the media.
The State Department has sought to clarify its stand, “More than a million international students’ study at US institutions each year, including approximately 196,000 Indian students last year. Instances of fraud schemes are rare, unfortunate aberrations in the proud history of educational exchange between the United States and India.” It added that the US government fully supports and facilitates international education and legitimate student travel.
Steve Francis, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, commented, “Homeland Security Investigations special agents uncovered a nationwide network that grossly exploited U.S. immigration laws. These suspects aided hundreds of foreign nationals to remain in the United States illegally by helping to portray them as students, which they most certainly were not.”
The eight recruiters who were detained allegedly helped these foreign students to fraudulently obtain “immigration documents from the school and facilitated the creation of false student records, including transcripts, for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities” according to the statement by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Defence attorneys counter that such university programs are legal and the university itself claimed that it was approved by the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, the Department had itself listed the university on its website according to the defence attorneys.
Michael Sofo, an attorney in Atlanta with Mannan and Associates, commented to Detroit Free Press, “There are specific universities who have advanced degree programs that primarily involved practical training from day one that allows them to enroll and the bulk of the time is spent working. (The courses) can be done at a remote location. It doesn’t have to be where they attend the university… Programs like this exist and they are legal.”
WHY THIS HIGH-HANDEDNESS, UNCLE SAM?
When a situation like this arises, it obviously takes on larger ramifications for the relationship between India and the US. In 2018, around 186,000 Indian students opted to complete their higher studies in the US. Incidents like these are certainly detrimental to the faith they hold in the American legal and justice system.
As the Indian embassy has pointed out, the recruiters and students should not be viewed in the same light. If students were indeed convinced that the entire operation is legal, considering that all the documents showed the university to be legitimate, they cannot be labeled criminals. In fact, this raise questions on the authorities and the means they have used.
This kind of regulatory overreach with highly questionable methods is unwarranted and uncalled for, and would definitely influence Indian students considering US for higher studies in the future.