A fake university was helping immigrants stay in the U.S. on student visas — until it was revealed to be an elaborate sting operation run by undercover ICE agents.
The website for the University of Farmington has been taken down and replaced with an official notice stating “The University of Farmington has been closed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” but until Wednesday, according to the Washington Post, it looked like any other university website, advertising “an innovative STEM curriculum” and boasting photos of students studying on a quad and in a library.
“Located in the heart of the automotive and advanced manufacturing center of Southeast Michigan, the University of Farmington provides students from throughout the world a unique educational experience,” the site reportedly said.
But it was all a front — there was no University of Farmington campus, no innovative STEM curriculum, or any classes of any kind. The University of Farmington was presented privately to recent immigrants as a way around immigration laws, where in exchange for their “tuition fees,” immigrants got false documentation of their student status. After obtaining a student visa, a person must remain enrolled and make progress toward a degree, or else leave the country within 60 days. The University of Farmington allowed people to appear to meet these requirements, without having to actually go to class or study. The program was set up in 2015, and reportedly helped at least 600 people stay in the country under false pretenses.
It sounded like a daring, ingenious if brazen way to circumvent immigration laws for those who could afford it. Until federal prosecutors revealed on Wednesday that the fake university was actually run by ICE, as an elaborate sting operation to catch people who were willing to break the law to stay here, and recruiters who were willing to falsify documents to help them do so.
The Detroit News reported that federal agents have arrested University of Farmington “students” across the country, as well as eight recruiters who facilitated the fraud. The recruiters allegedly falsified various records, including the transcripts students used to verify their progress and keep their visas. They allegedly accepted more than $250,000, collectively, for this work.
“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,” Special Agent in Charge Steve Francis, who heads the Detroit office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), told the Detroit Free Press. “HSI remains vigilant to ensure the integrity of U.S. immigration laws and will continue to investigate this and other transnational crimes.”
ICE did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment on how many former “students” are facing deportation as a result of the sting.
This is not the first time federal agents have used fake universities as dragnets to catch people trying to subvert immigration law. In 2016, the University of Northern New Jersey was revealed as a similar sting operation, resulting in the arrest of 22 people who arranged “students’” enrollment. There’s no way to know how many other operations like this exist, but this week’s big reveal is a good reminder that deals that sound too good to be true, usually are.