Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is defending itself amid claims that it unfairly enticed migrants into enrolling in a fake university so they could falsely maintain their student visa status.
Fox News previously reported on the backlash ICE received as several news outlets reported that the agency recently arrested dozens more students at the University of Farmington — a fake university set up as part of a broader federal effort to expose immigration fraud.
“These reports mischaracterized the purpose and rationale for the investigation, and I want to set the record straight,” ICE Acting Deputy Director Derek Benner said in a news release on Friday.
Along with Benner’s statement, ICE presented video evidence purporting to show students acknowledging that their enrollment was illegal.
The video footage showed four clips in which students acknowledged not only that they wouldn’t be taking any classes, but also that the scheme they were engaging in was illegal.
“You know this is not legal, right? So, it has to kind of stay between us,” an apparent undercover agent tells one of the students. “I know, I know,” he responds.
Another clip shows a girl saying she’s “OK” with not taking any classes. Later in the clip, she similarly acknowledges that the activity is illegal.
“Prior to enrolling at Farmington, each prospective enrollee was informed that there were no classes, curriculum or teachers at Farmington,” Benner said. “Despite this, individuals enrolled because they saw an opportunity to avoid any academic requirements and, instead, work full-time, which was a violation of their nonimmigrant status.”
He also defended the agency’s work as part of its efforts to uncover fraud within the visa system. “Farmington is a clear example of a pay-to-stay scheme, which is against the law and not only creates a dangerous lack of accountability, but also diminishes the quality and integrity of the U.S. student visa system,” he said.
“Undercover investigations like this one provide law enforcement an inside look into how these networks operate, which was the primary purpose in establishing Farmington,” he added. “The investigation provided HSI with a better understanding of how recruiters and others abuse the nonimmigrant student visa system.”
In total, 250 students have been arrested in connection to the fake University of Farmington. When the university and associated arrests were reported on in this past January, federal prosecutors alleged the students had knowingly enrolled in the fake school in order to maintain their student visa status.
“Earlier this year, Congress rushed to approve BILLIONS more $ for ICE + CBP,” Ocasio-Cortez had tweeted. “I saw members voting YES w/o even a summary of the bill. Nobody cared then how we’d pay for it. Now ICE is setting up fake universities to trap students. Yet were [sic] called radical for opposing it.”
“This is cruel and appalling,” Warren had tweeted.
Neither Warren’s campaign nor Ocasio-Cortez’s office responded to Fox News’ request for comments.
As it turns out, former President Obama’s administration not only founded the fake university, it also engaged in a similar operation in New Jersey in 2016.
The Detroit News reported that Homeland Security agents started posing as university officials in 2017, but the university initially opened in 2015 as part of “Paper Chase” — an undercover operation geared toward exposing recruiters engaging in immigration fraud.
While many progressive complaints didn’t specifically blame the Trump administration, the incident highlighted how Trump has repeatedly been attacked for tactics used or supported by his predecessor. Ocasio-Cortez has also clarified that she opposed Obama’s immigration policies.