In an effort to boost bust numbers and further cement its reputation as the ugly embodiment of punitive xenophobia, ICE set up a fake university in Michigan to ensnare immigrants attempting to do something the law allows them to do: stay in the country while they earn a degree.
This wasn’t just some online university with sketchy bonafides. This was a (bogus) university sporting a real campus and accreditation secured from a national accreditation service — everything needed to start converting tuition fees into arrests and detentions. ICE took in $60,000 in application fees alone before it started rounding up people who, for the most part, were just trying to do something legal. Instead of being able to live and work in the US while they completed a degree, more than 160 duped students were taken into custody by ICE. So far, only eight are actually facing charges.
More than 600 students, nearly all Indian citizens, were caught up in the scheme, which the Guardian has found included fake Facebook profiles created by the nation’s second largest federal investigative agency, Ice’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division.
“Law enforcement authorities, like everyone else, are required to use their real names on Facebook and we make this policy clear on our public-facing Law Enforcement Guidelines page,” a Facebook representative told the Guardian. “Operating fake accounts is not allowed, and we will act on any violating accounts.”
These details have started to leak out now that the prosecutions of the eight people arrested have started to move forward. One of ICE’s fake accounts went by the name of Ali “AJ” Milani — a supposed Detroit resident sporting a friends list filled with South Asian residents. Another was Carey Ferrante, a bogus account that was “friends” with Milani and exchanged messages with potential students. At least five accounts have been identified as bogus fronts for ICE personnel. All of these went dark after The Guardian approached ICE for comment.
Fake Facebook accounts, shoring up the backstory for a fake university. A fake university that had a physical campus potential students could visit and was nationally-accredited, thanks to an overly-helpful accreditation service. All of this added up to a university that looked and felt like the real thing. And yet, our government insists everyone who got faked out of application fees, tuition, and extending their stay in the United States knew exactly what they were getting into.
In the indictment, the government said: “Each student knew that the University’s program was not approved by the United States Department of Homeland Security, was illegal, and that discretion should be used when discussing the program with others.”
This assertion isn’t going to hold up — not when the agency’s actions directly contradict this claim. Documents and statements obtained by the Detroit Free Press show the government straight up lied to students during this sting:
The university was placed by federal investigators on the website of ICE as an university approved by them under a government program for foreign students known as SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Program).
None of this looks good for ICE — or for our government as a whole. The fake Facebook profiles may be the smallest of the lies told, but it shows the government has zero respect for the private people and institutions that happen to find themselves between it and its objectives. Whether its terms and conditions or enshrined rights, if they’re in the way, they’ll just need to be ignored.
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