Feb 6, 2019

You can ignore the next paragraph if you don’t like the legal Jargon! It simply states that facilitating someone to commit a crime, is in itself a crime.

“A person is guilty of criminal facilitation if he knowingly provides substantial assistance to a person intending to commit a felony and that person, in fact, commits the crime contemplated, or a like or related felony, employing the assistance so provided.” states the criminal facilitation code 12.1-06-02, of North Dakota. Similarly, Article 115.00 – Criminal facilitation in the fourth degree of the NY State penal law says that “A person is guilty of criminal facilitation in the fourth degree when, believing it probable that he is rendering aid “to a person who intends to commit a crime, he engages in conduct which provides such person with means or opportunity for the commission thereof and which in fact aids such person to commit a felony.”  There are similar anti facilitation Federal US laws concerning facilitation of various specific crimes.

Should the facilitation of crime in the Farmington University scandal be considered a crime or should it be pushed under the rug because it is just creativity at the part of the government to catch fraud?

The F-1 and J-1 visas allow for the students to get work permissions either on campus or off campus and sometimes both.  These work permissions often referred to as CPDs, are granted by the universities themselves and do not involve complex paperwork of going through the immigration.  The status of a person to stay in the US expires when his or her visa expires on graduation or at the end of the term of the visa. To stay in the US and continue to work, the students need to apply for visa extensions.  The only way a student can get an extension is if he/she is enrolled in another university.  Many sham universities blossomed in the US, to benefit from this requirement, only to provide the necessary documentation.  Many of these were shut down by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  However, in 2016, after Mr. Trump came on board, the government itself opened a fake university called The University of Northern New Jersey.  The university lured ‘brokers,’ who hired students in need of visa extensions.  Thousands enrolled and then they were arrested.  At that time, the government went only after the brokers and considered the students to be victims.  However, they opened another sham university – Farmington University in Michigan.  As per the Detroit News. The fake university was set up by Home Land security agents to target students trying to get fraudulent extensions. The University looked legitimate with a Facebook page with a “Knowledge and Work” motto and it displayed an events calendar and a professional website with photos of hard-working students.  The university even had a physical location, a basement of a building in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  “Agents from Homeland Security posed as owners and staff of the university and hired recruiters to connect foreign nationals to the sham school,” reports the Detroit News.

This past month, the university was shut down and in a nationwide sweep, Homeland Security arrested eight recruiter and 129 students.  After finding out that it was a fake university, a few of the students transferred to other schools. However, even they were arrested, because at one point at least they were enrolled in that school.  Most of these students have masters’ degrees and were enrolled at Farmington for a second master’s degree.  Many of these students did not even know, as they claim, that it was a fake operation.  When they complained that their scheduled class did not happen, they were told not to worry, there would be another class. According to the Times of India, while the government claims that the students were aware of the university being fake, people who work in the building, where the university is located refute the claim. “They were asking about what time they open, what time they close,” said Nada Abdulmeseh who works in the building said of the students, “students were always trying to find out information about the school and were struggling to get hold of people from administration or management”, reports the Times of India.

Many students received letters to either reinstate their status or leave the country.  In the US, a standing rule was that if someone overstays one’s stay by less than 180 days, one will not have any restrictions on reentering the US. However, on May 10, 2018, the USCIS issued an infamous memorandum, popularly knowns as the FJM memo (an acronym for F-1, J-1, M-1 visas), that went into effect on August 9, 2018.  The memo is said to target these three types of visa overstays.  Originally the countdown for 180 days started from the day the USCIS formally found a person violated his or her visa stay or from the day a judge ordered the person to be excluded, removed or deported.  However, under the FJM memo, the countdown for persons whose visa expired before August 9, 2018, will start from August 9, 2018.  This made Feb 5, 2019, a critical date for all these students as this date marks the 180th day of their violation. Some of them can’t legally leave the country before this date because they are on $5,000 bails and are ordered to show up for hearings.

The critical question is the role of the US government.  They set up an elegant trap for people to commit a crime and in the process became a party to the crime, by working with the recruiters.  Anyway, you look at it, the government facilitated the crime. I noticed a legal argument being made that it was not an entrapment by the government, but rather a creative way to catch the criminals.  If that is true, then what the recruiters did should also be treated as just a creative scheme.  If the recruiters’ bargain was ‘hard cash’, that for the government was ‘students with expired visas.

Most of these students are from India and the Indian consulate, as well as many independent Indian organizations quickly got involved to safeguard the interests of the students and provide them the needed legal help. According to the Times of India, a group in Atlanta is considering filing a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security.

At the time of this article, only six of the recruiters have been indicted and the fate of the rest is uncertain. Also, fifty of these students have already returned to India to beat the Feb 5th deadline.

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