The sting was carried out in 2019 by the Department of Homeland Security, who used the bogus university to catch international students who were trying to falsely maintain their student visa status.
So far, around 250 have been arrested.
“These individuals were not new to the US student visa system”
As a result of the sting, ICE faced wide-spread criticism, with the Times of India reporting there was no way for international students to check the university’s authenticity.
Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even called for ICE to be abolished in response to Farmington, while defence attorneys for the students said they believe they were entrapped and didn’t realise the university was fake as the university was listed on the ICE website as an approved school.
Following the outcry, acting deputy director of ICE, Derek Benner, released a video along with a statement that hit back against reports that “mischaracterised the purpose and rationale for the investigation”.
“These individuals were not new to the US student visa system; they were familiar with its requirements and their obligations,” Benner said.
“They secured visas to enrol in another US school and were already in the United States when they transferred to Farmington.”
In addition, Benner continued, prior to enrolling at Farmington each prospective enrolee was informed that there were no classes, curriculum or teachers at Farmington.
“Despite this, individuals enrolled because they saw an opportunity to avoid any academic requirements and, instead, work full-time, which was a violation of their nonimmigrant status,” he added.
Benner said that evidence, including video footage, audio recordings, and correspondence collected during the investigation supports that each prospective enrolee knowingly and wilfully violated their non-immigrant status.
These recordings appear to back up ICE’s claims that at least some of the 250 students who were arrested knowingly broke the law.
The video shows an undercover member of DHS tell a Farmington candidate,“we would send you documents on the class and schedule that says you’ve gone classes, and everything like that”, to which the candidate responds, “that’s fine”.
The DHS operative then goes on to say “Okay, you know this is not legal, right? So it has to kind of stay between us, right?” to which the student says “I know, I know”.
Benner claimed that Farmington is a “clear example of a pay-to-stay scheme,” and said that such schemes result in a dangerous lack of accountability and diminish the quality and integrity of the US student visa system.
“The investigation provided [Homeland Security Investigations] with a better understanding of how recruiters and others abuse the nonimmigrant student visa system,” he said.
“This, in turn, informs and improves DHS’ efforts to uncover fraud at schools, provides insight into networks within the United States that facilitate such abuse, and serves as a deterrent to potential violators both in the short- and long-term.”
“Individuals enrolled because they saw an opportunity to avoid any academic requirements”
ICE has been met with further criticism from the sector in recent times, after civil rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against Boston Public Schools claiming that they were giving ICE access to student information.
The lawsuit centres around Boston Public Schools sharing student incident reports – something that they deny doing – but the attorneys behind the lawsuit say the school district is putting students in jeopardy, and are calling on the district to shut down the communication.