India on Saturday issued a demarche to the American Embassy here, expressing its concern over the detention of Indian students in the US, and sought immediate consular access to them.
At the Ministry of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj and her team are giving “top priority” to the Indian students who have arrested in the United States for enrolling themselves in a fake university.
The Ministry said India continues to closely monitor and take proactive measures to address the situation arising out of the detention of several Indian students in connection with their enrolment in a "fraudulent university in the US".
"Our concern over the dignity and well-being of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated," it said. The ministry underlined to the US Embassy that students, who may have been duped into enrolling in the ‘university' should be treated differently from those recruiters who have duped them. "We have urged the US side to share full details and regular updates of the students with the government, to release them from detention at the earliest and not to resort to deportation against their will," the ministry said. The India mission and consulates have visited several detention centres throughout the US to extend consular assistance to the detained students, the MEA said.
Authorities have termed it as “pay-to-stay” in America scheme and out of 130 foreign students arrested, 129 are from India.
The US’ Department of homeland Security recently carried out an undercover operation at the university in Detroit’s Farmington Hills designed to expose immigration fraud.
While, the immigration attorneys said that the students were not aware that the university was operating illegally and illegitimately. Attorneys also criticised authorities for using “troubling” methods to trap them and hold students accountable as they claimed that they “knowingly enrolled” themselves in the fake university to maintain their visa status in US.
After the undercover operation, US' Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 130 foreign students, including 129 Indians, for immigration violations.
According to latest reports, trackers have been put around the ankles of the detained students. They have been radio tagged and asked not to move out of a certain radius.
In 2011, in a similar incident, there was an outrage where Indian students were radio-tagged for their alleged involvement in an immigration fraud at US’ TriValley University.
Khaalid H Walls, an ICE spokesperson said, “The ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has administratively arrested 130 foreign nationals enrolled at the University of Farmington for civil immigration violations. Of the 130, 129 were Indian nationals.”
The ICE agents made the arrests on Wednesday, the same day federal indictments were unsealed that charged eight people, all of whom are either Indians or Indian-Americans, in a visa fraud scheme. All eight were charged criminally for "conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit." But the 130 students were arrested only on civil immigration charges.
The arrests took place across the US, in New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston, Michigan, California, Louisiana, North Carolina and St Louis.
According to attorneys, the students had immigrated legally to US on student visas, but had allegedly transferred to the University of Farmington so that they could work.
However, federal prosecutors claim the students were aware the university was not running a legitimate operation. But attorneys who have spoken with students or with family and friends of those arrested are pushing back against the government's claims.
The Indian embassy in the US has also opened a 24/7 hotline to assist 129 Indian students. It has appointed a nodal officer to help the students in distress.
The two numbers - (+1) 202-322-1190 and (+1) 202-340-2590 - would be manned by senior embassy officials round the clock, officials said.
The arrested students, their friends and family members can contact the embassy at the e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.