All 130 foreign students, including 129 Indians who were detained for enrolling in a fake university, were aware that they were committing a crime to fraudulently remain in the US, the State Department has said, days after India issued a demarche to the American Embassy in New Delhi.
“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,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.
The State Department’s response came after India issued a demarche to the American Embassy in New Delhi on Saturday, expressing its concern over the detention of Indian students and sought immediate consular access to them.
Federal prosecutors had also earlier claimed the students were aware the university was not running a legitimate operation. But attorneys who have spoken with students or with family and friends of those arrested are pushing back against the government’s claims.
India had sought consular access to its students detained by the US authorities and had impressed upon the Trump administration the need to address the situation at the earliest.
The Indian Embassy in Washington has made an aggressive effort to reach out to these students and, with the help of the community leaders, is providing them with legal help.
The Indian embassy has also opened a 24/7 hotline to assist 129 Indian students. It has appointed a nodal officer to help the students in distress.
External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the government was according the “highest priority” to the situation arising out of the detention of Indian students in the US.
India had also highlighted that a distinction should be made between those involved in recruiting or enrolling students and students who have been duped or defrauded in the process.
As many as 129 Indians were among the 130 foreign students arrested for enrolling at a fake university allegedly to remain in the US, even as immigration attorneys claimed that the youths were not aware of the varsity’s illegitimate operation and criticised authorities for using “troubling” methods to trap them.
The university in Detroit’s Farmington Hills was part of an undercover operation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designed to expose immigration fraud, according to federal prosecutors who announced charges in the case.
The ICE agents made the arrests on January 30, the same day federal indictments were unsealed that charged eight people, all of whom are either Indians or Indo-Americans, in a visa fraud scheme.
The eight defendants were charged criminally for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit. But the 130 students were arrested on only civil immigration charges, media reports stated.
The sweep was one of the largest targeting immigrants from India in recent years, immigration attorneys said.
The arrests took place across the US, in New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston, Michigan, California, Louisiana, North Carolina and St Louis. The students had immigrated legally to the US on student visas and had transferred to the University of Farmington so they could work, said attorneys.
In the first reaction, days after the story broke out, the State Department had described it an unfortunate aberration in the proud history of India-US educational exchanges.
“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,” the State Department said.
(With agency inputs)