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Last week, nearly 200 international students enrolled at the University of Farmington were arrested in the U.S. after it was announced that the university was a front created by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to arrest those using it as a way to illegally stay in the country. While ICE has publicly stated that all of the students enrolled at the University of Farmington were aware that they were using the school to stay in the U.S. illegally, others argue that the sting is just another in a series of high-profile busts used by the Trump administration to strike fear in immigrants looking to enter the country.
The University of Farmington was established in 2015 in Farmington Hills, Michigan. According to BBC News, the university was being used to find foreign nations who had originally arrived in the U.S. using student visas before later transferring to fake universities as a way to stay in the country and obtain work permits. These fraudulent universities, referred to as ‘visa mills,’ allow to students to students to enroll in a ‘pay-to-stay’ scheme, which allows them to remain enrolled without taking any courses. In the case of the University of Farmington, students paid $8,500 for undergraduate tuition and $11,000 for graduate tuition in order to attend the university. At the time of the sting, there were nearly 600 students enrolled at the University of Farmington, many of whom fled the U.S. upon the announcement of the bust in order to avoid deportation. According to Vice News, though, a quiet change made to immigration policy by the Trump administration, the nearly 200 students who did not leave the U.S. and were detained by ICE may not be able to re-enter for years.
According to Business Insider, the University of Farmington was created under operation ‘Paper Chase,’ an operation that has been intensified throughout Donald Trump’s presidency as part of an administration-wide crackdown against illegal immigration. Additionally, Vice News reports, in August, new legislation was quietly passed that redefined ‘unlawful presence’ in the U.S. In the past, the policy in place allowed students 180 days from after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determined them to be residing in the country illegally. The new legislation changed this, giving students 180 days from whenever they began violating their terms of residence, regardless of whether Immigration Services is aware of their presence. On Monday, this 180-day countdown ended, meaning that any student who was enrolled at the University of Farmington before the legislation was enacted and who did not leave the U.S. will be unable to return for a minimum of three years.
Although ICE maintains that all of the students detained in the University of Farmington sting were aware that they were using the university as a way to illegally stay in the country, others have questioned whether the students truly understood that the University of Farmington was just a ‘pay-to-stay’ school and not a legitimate university. One student, who asked not to be named, told BBC News that he tried his best to verify whether the university was legitimate. He stated that the university’s website showed images of classrooms and libraries, and that he did not suspect anything was amiss, even when, after paying his tuition, he waited over a year for classes to begin. Amer Zahr, the spokesman for one of the students argues that the sting was primarily targeted at discouraging other international students from trying to enter the country in the future. “It seems quite clear the scheme was set up by the government not to go after legitimate offenders, but to create fear in our immigration system,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “They’re going after students who are trying to better their lives, because America has the best education. This is who they’re choosing to go after? It’s really disturbing.”