U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested 250 foreign students since January enrolled in a fake university set up by the government in metro Detroit.
Seven of the eight recruiters who helped bring in the foreign students, knowing the institution was a sham but unaware that the government was involved, have also been arrested.
The arrests are part of a sting operation by the Department of Homeland Security that enticed foreign-born students, primarily from India, to attend the fake University of Farmington, which purported to offer graduate classes in technology and computer studies, the Detroit Free Press reports.
What's the background?
Beginning in 2015, federal law enforcement officials created the school and staffed it with undercover agents pretending to work for the university.
The fake university was listed as legitimate on the DHS website and on the website of an accrediting agency working with the government, but the university did not have any teachers and did not offer any classes.
According to the report, many of the students had enrolled in the school to take advantage of a government program that allows foreign students to remain and work in the U.S. through a F-1 visa program.
What happens now?
Seven of the eight individuals who worked as recruiters for the university have pleaded guilty to criminal charges and have been sentenced, the report notes. The remaining recruiter is to be sentenced in January.
The large majority of the students arrested were granted voluntary departure and have left the United States, while others have been deported or are contesting the orders for their removal.
Attorneys for the students are arguing that the U.S. government unfairly preyed on students who merely wanted to maintain their legal immigration status and lured them into committing a crime.
They point to recently obtained emails that tout the university's accreditation and flexible class schedule.
Attorneys for ICE and the Department of Justice argue that the students knew they were involved in a sham.
"While 'enrolled' at the University, one hundred percent of the foreign citizen students never spent a single second in a classroom. If it were truly about obtaining an education, the University would not have been able to attract anyone, because it had no teachers, classes, or educational services," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Helms wrote in a sentencing memo.
It is also believed that the government collected $12,000 in yearly tuition from the students.
To date, no lawsuit has been filed against the government.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated. According to court documents, the operation began in 2015, not in January 2016 as previously stated. The story has been edited to reflect that fact.