- A recruiter for a fake university operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been sentenced to six months in prison.
- The University of Farmington, in Michigan, had accreditation and was listed on the Department of Homeland Security’s website as a legitimate school.
- “I trusted the University of Farmington was genuine,” said Phanideep Karnati, the 36-year-old recruiter.
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A recruiter for a fake school operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to entice and then arrest foreign-born students will serve six months in federal prison.
The University of Farmington, near Detroit, Michigan, was formed during the Obama administration, according to state records with the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. In the first half of 2019, ICE arrested 250 students from the school. Many have been deported.
On Wednesday, Judge Gershwin Drain of the US District Court in Detroit said 36-year-old Phanideep Karnati, the recruiter, was “guilty” but “a little less culpable” than others who were sentenced for the same crime.
Karnati is the eighth individual convicted of recruiting students to ICE’s university, according to Detroit Free Press journalist Niraj Warikoo, who broke the fake university story last November and has continued reporting on new developments.
Prosecutors sought to lock up Karnati for 24 to 30 months. Last year, he pleaded guilty to visa fraud for recruiting 39 students to the University of Farmington.
But he and the other recruiters said they did not know the school was an ICE scheme. The Department of Homeland Security listed the university as legitimate on its web page of approved schools, and an accreditation agency had signed off on it as well.
Since the University of Farmington’s inception, ICE agents have posed as university administrators and other officials.
The university was popular among foreign students whose schools had lost their accreditations and needed student visas to remain in the country. Nearly all of the students were from India, and some, like Karnati, recruited their friends and acquaintances to the school for a commission. The school had no actual classes or professors, though. And the Farmington website had tell-tale typos and grammatical errors throughout.
The university charged students roughly $US12,000 per year for tuition and fees, netting ICE several million dollars.
“I trusted the University of Farmington was genuine,” said Karnati during his hearing. “I relied on the website” and “government agencies.”
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Drain said Karnati would not be held in detention prior to the beginning of his sentence.
ICE agents were in the courtroom, however. The agents took him to jail as Karnati’s partner and two boys, 3 and 10, looked on, the younger one crying.
ICE intends to deport Karnati to India after his stint in federal prison, and the family’s immigration status has been revoked due to the conviction. Karnati moved to the US on an H1-B visa about a decade ago.
The crime is “serious, but it’s not all that serious,” Judge Drain said to Karnati during the hearing. “You have a very clean record, you got a family.”
The news that ICE has been operating a fake university drew outrage from politicians including Senator Kamala Harris, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
DHS created a fake university & accepted immigrants on student visas. When it was shut down, DHS tried deporting some of these students because they weren’t enrolled in school.
This isn’t just cruel, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. Officials must be held accountable for this. https://t.co/7A5m3L7LV7
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) November 30, 2019
Abolish ICE. https://t.co/9uMtKmyEI1
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 27, 2019
It’s “anti-immigrant,” said Warren in a letter to Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.
Warren and the other signees also asked DeVos to respond to a series of questions about the university by January 28. Those responses could not be located.
Others say there is nothing wrong with the ICE university.
“It’s not anti-immigrant to enforce the law,” Matthew Schneider, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press.
“This is pro-immigrant.”
- Read more:
- ICE arrested an estimated 250 people who enrolled in a fake university set up by federal authorities as part of an immigration sting operation
- ICE is reportedly using fake Facebook accounts to track undocumented immigrants and lure them into sting operations
- Palantir’s tech was used by ICE in the controversial arrests of 680 people at a Mississippi chicken farm according to an immigrants’ rights group
- Some ICE officers are reportedly furious with how Trump is handling immigration issues and wondering ‘what the hell is going on’ at the border
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