The federal appeals court reversed a ruling by a lower court dismissing the case, and returned it back to the District Court for the District of New Jersey for its consideration.
“[The plan] ensnared hundreds of foreign students who had “enrolled” in UNNJ”
In giving its ruling the court said that the US government had initially conceded that the students enrolled at the fake university – the University of Northern New Jersey – were innocent victims of fraud, but later “tried to change that characterisation to suggest that they were more akin to participants in the fraudulent scheme”.
Ira J. Kurzban, the lawyer who argued the case for five students against the US government, said that the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia had “slapped them silly”.
Giving the opinion of the court, circuit judge Theodore McKee conceded that the scheme worked in filing charges against 21 brokers of fraudulent student visas, but also “ensnared hundreds of foreign students who had “enrolled” in UNNJ”.
By informing each student “enrolled” at the fake university that their student status had been terminated following its investigation, DHS contradicted its position, he explained.
“The import of that letter underlies this appeal,” McKee said.
The letter told students that they either had to file for reinstatement of nonimmigrant student status with USCIS or depart the US immediately.
The appeals court disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that the case was not ripe for review and its dismissal of the claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and because no final action had been taken by the government.
The ruling means that student plaintiffs can return to their original complaints that the government’s termination of their immigration status was in violation of US law, and can seek an order prohibiting the government from finding that the students committed fraud by enrolling in UNNJ.
Following the arrest of 21 people charged with fraud in 2016, US stakeholders called for an increase in due diligence.
Earlier in 2019, the US Department of Homeland Security set up a similar fake university – the University of Farmington – to catch out people aiming to recruit foreign nationals to enrol into the University so that they could illegally live and work in the country.
The strategy resulted in “unprecedented” numbers of arrests and deportations of Indian nationals.