Newly unsealed court documents revealed that the University of Farmington Hills, advertised online even now as a “nationally accredited business and STEM institution” in a suburb of Detroit, was in reality a sting operation run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement meant to lure immigrants on student visas into knowingly paying for fraudulent paperwork in order to stay in the country, the Detroit News reported Wednesday.
The plot, which began in 2015 but, as the News reported, intensified in 2017 after President Trump’s inauguration, resulted in the arrests of eight student “recruiters” who allegedly took in a collective $250,000 in profit in exchange for finding and helping at least 600 other students—mostly from India—to get in on the scheme.
According to the federal grand jury indictments, the recruiters and the students they found knew the university was operating an illegal scheme but did not realize it was run by ICE. The student recruiters were also accused of helping the fraudulent students get the paperwork the students needed to be able to stay in the country from the university. An unknown number of students from around the country were also arrested.
Beginning in 2017, ICE agents began posing as officials at the university, which had not a campus but a small office in a corporate park. The Department of Homeland Security named the University of Farmington on its list of certified schools for international students. “Our innovative curriculum combines traditional instruction and distance learning with fulltime professional experiences,” the website promises. “We offer flexible class schedules and a focus on students who do not want to interrupt their careers.”
A small number of students who joined in on the scheme asked to be paid for recruiting other fake students, and they met several times with university officials who turned out later to be undercover ICE agents. Most of the students they recruited had arrived in the country on legal, valid student visas and transferred to Farmington Hills. The students paid the university several thousand dollars to get the paperwork proving they were full-time students and went along with their regular lives.
The eight recruiters were charged with harboring aliens for profit and conspiracy to commit visa fraud and face a maximum of five years in prison. The other fraudulent students who were arrested face deportation.
As the News pointed out, it’s not the first time a fake university has been established as bait for visa fraud. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced it had charged 21 people with student and work visa fraud after establishing a fake University of Northern New Jersey. Many of the students later told the New York Times they had not been aware they were committing fraud and that they had felt tricked by both the U.S. government and by the brokers they paid to arrange their enrollment.