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We sure wouldn't want this story to be lost in the Thanksgiving news crater. Friday, while we were all digesting our cranberry business or sliding off roads after Google Maps lied to us (no injury, minor damage, we have insurance), the Detroit Free Press was bringing America an update on a sleazy sting operation ICE used to arrest some 250 immigrants, mostly students who'd legally entered the US from India and then lost their student visas. (The Washington Post also wrote it up Saturday.)

The scam was simple enough, as WaPo summarizes:

The University of Farmington, a fictitious school that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement marketed as a hub for STEM students who wanted to enroll and not "interrupt their careers," had a fake name, a fake website and a fake motto on its fake seal. "Scientia et Labor," the seal said, which means "Knowledge and Work."

Also, despite having a fake seal just like Trump University did, you can't blame Trump or even Stephen Miller for this one, since as the Free Press reports, the "University of Farmington" sting got rolling under the Obama administration, in 2015.

But in 2017, with Trump's Deport Everyone agenda in full swing, Homeland Security expanded the operation, with agents from ICE's Homeland Security Investigations division (HSI) setting up a fake office for the university and hiring "recruiters" to help sell the fake school to immigrants trying to stay in the USA. Lawyers for some of the recruiters have argued their clients were victims of entrapment, since they were told the university was perfectly legitimate.

As of Friday, the scheme has resulted in 250 arrests. Out of those, ICE says 80 percent "voluntarily" left the USA; 10 percent have been given final deportation orders, and the rest are contesting their deportation in one forum or another. The eight recruiters all pleaded guilty, too, despite the iffy tactics employed by ICE in the investigation, which included telling the recruiters they'd get tuition credit for recruiting other students.

Again, the government insists this is all excellent law enforcement, since those the scam caught really did have expired visas, and should have known the school was fraudulent since there were no classes, no classrooms, and no real degrees. Therefore, we should overlook some of the scummier parts of the operation, like the real-looking website, the agents posing as administrators and even assuring the "recruiters" it was all legal, or the lengths HSI went to to make it seem like the university might be a real school, or at least a fake school that had really fooled the feds.


Here's our favorite detail, from the Free Press story. As part of its sting, DHS didn't just create fake logos and letterhead and websites. It actually faked the school's government credentials.

[The] Department of Homeland Security had said on its website that the university was legitimate. An accreditation agency that was working with the U.S. on its sting operation also listed the university as legitimate.

WaPo details other elements of the sting, which presumably the targeted immigrants should have seen through because, again, no actual classes or campus:

From the outside, the University of Farmington appeared legitimate, touting on its fake website the number of languages spoken by its president (four) and the number of classes taught by teaching assistants (zero). Photos of the campus showed students lounging around with books on a grassy quad or engaged in rapt conversation in its brightly lit modern library. Tuition was relatively reasonable — $8,500 a year for undergraduates and $11,000 a year for graduate students.

The prosecutors say that since the recruiters and the "students" all knew the school was fake, and the main business of the school involved creating fake documents to illegally extend the migrants' stay in the US, there was no entrapment, just a lot of willing participants in a fraud.

"Their true intent could not be clearer," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Helms wrote in a sentencing memo this month for [Prem] Rampeesa, one of the eight recruiters, of the hundreds of students enrolled. "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."

Rahul Reddy, an attorney representing about 80 people caught in the sting, told the Free Press he thinks it's pretty scummy behavior, especially given that immigration courts don't offer the same protections as normal federal courts:

They should not punish these people who were lured into a trap [...] These people can't even defend themselves properly because they're not given the same rights in deportation proceedings

Reddy also said he believed the government "made a lot of money" off all that tuition from the "students," which we suppose might get confirmed if Donald Trump tweets about what a brilliant scheme it was.

Never mind, though, they're all criminals, and now America is safe from another 250 people who don't belong there. That certainly seems worth whatever the costs might have been for a multi-year operation, huh?

Meanwhile, REAL scam colleges get a free pass from this administration, la dee da, la dee da, the end.

[Detroit Free Press / WaPo / Free Press / Detroit News]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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