Another ICE Immigration Sting

Ten months ago, unsealed federal court filings revealed that U.S. immigration officials had marketed a sham Michigan-based school, recruited foreign national students, then had them all arrested for immigration violations. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that the sham university was set up to impart the Department of Homeland Security with firsthand authentication of fraud.

The University of Farmington marketed an ingenious STEM curriculum that would prime its students to compete in the economy and provided an adaptable schedule that would let them enroll without employment disruption. Its tuition was within reason — $8,500 a year for undergraduates and $11,000 a year for graduate students. The sham university had promotional photos of students lounging around in its quad or active in a conversation in its contemporary library. In reality, the campus had been a small office in the northwestern Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Michigan, without a quad or library in sight.

The sting operation had undercover agents acting as university officials, and DHS had the fake university marketed on its own site and on an accreditation agency's site.

Farmington had more than 600 students, all of whom were Indian nationals with the exception of one Palestinian student, registered at the university throughout the time it was active. It seemed legitimate enough – the university was registered with the State of Michigan, had accreditation with a national company sanctioned by the Department of Education, and ICE had approved it as a government program for foreign students. But the university, which employed no university officials at all, had no actual instruction at its location.

"We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa program can also be exploited and abused,” the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, said in an email statement.

Agents from Homeland Security Investigations, another division of ICE, used recruiters to amass false student records, including transcripts, to provide to immigration authorities, the indictment states. Authorities argue that the eight recruiters simultaneously attained more than $250,000 in payment for their recruitments, not ascertaining that their payments came from the agents within HSI.

For immigration violations and registering at a sham university made by U.S. immigration officials that marketed a graduate program for computer studies and technology, ICE has arrested about 250 foreign students, with about 90 arrests in the past months. Around 80% of the students arrested were granted voluntary departure and the remaining students were either granted a final order of removal or filed for relief, HSI said in a statement. 

More than half of those arrested have been allowed to leave, the agency said.

Eight others have been charged for their duties as recruiters in addition to the arrested students. Immigration officials acting as university officials had promised them money or tuition credits if they recruited other international students. ICE authorities state that the recruiters and the students should have known that Farmington was a sham university since it had no classes at an actual location and allege that the students were not there to gain an education, but to maintain their F-1 nonimmigrant visas, which allow foreign nationals to temporarily remain in the country while a student at an academic institution with accreditation. 

The Free Press amassed emails that indicate that might not have been the truth. The sham Farmington president, Ali Milani, hailed it as “a nationally accredited institution authorized to enroll international students” in his emails to potential students. Milani also wrote to them that Farmington extended adaptable schedules to avoid employment disruption.

Rahul Reddy, a Texas immigration attorney and partner at Reddy & Neumann, who was involved with the Farmington students’ cases said that U.S. officials running the Farmington sting operation had ensnared foreign students searching for an American education.

“They should not punish these people who were lured into a trap,” Reddy said. “These people can’t even defend themselves properly because they’re not given the same rights in deportation proceedings.”


ICE set up a fake university. Hundreds enrolled, not realizing it was a sting operation.