India monitoring detention of students after USA sting operation

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The foreign ministry in a statement said India continued to closely monitor the situation arising out of the detention of Indian students in connection with their enrollment in a "fraudulent university in the US".

Documents filed in court by federal prosecutors said as many as 600 students were enrolled at the fake institution, University of Farmington, set up by immigration officials for the sting operation to catch student visa fraud. The ministry said it urged the USA to release them "at the earliest" and cautioned that some "may have been duped".

On Thursday, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it had arrested 130 students, 129 of whom are Indians, in a "pay-and-stay" scam.

According to ICE, between February 2017 and January 2019, the defendants, a group of foreign citizens, conspired with each other and others to facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals in illegally remaining and working in the USA by actively recruiting them to enroll into a metro Detroit private university that, unbeknownst to the conspirators, was operated by HSI special agents as part of an undercover operation. The Association said on its Facebook page that it was trying to help affected students and is meeting Indian consular officials in the U.S. about the case.

Three indictments, unsealed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of MI in Detroit, charged eight individuals of Indian origin with recruiting students (the Detroit Free Press had reported that number to be around 600) to keep their immigration status in the U.S. valid and provide them with work permits by abusing the F-1 student visa scheme and associated curricular practical training (CPT) opportunities.

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The fake university was opened by Homeland Security investigations to trap those involved in illegal student visa racket.

The university was a cover to identify recruiters who were part of illegal immigration.

The ministry said a 24/7 helpline has been established in the Indian Embassy in Washington for assistance/queries related to the detention of Indian students. From their names it appears that all of them are either Indian nationals or Indian-Americans.

Meanwhile, the American Telugu Association estimates that about 100 students were arrested and that there are several others facing arrest warrants. It is unclear how many students are facing deportation, but it's being called one of the largest sweeps in recent years.

Attorneys have dismissed claims by United States prosecutors that the students were aware the University of Farmington was running an illegitimate operation, saying they legally entered the country with student visas and transferred to the varsity to work.

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According to indictment unsealed in a local court on Wednesday, these eight individuals helped at least 600 foreign nationals stay in the United States illegally.

Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has said that she will give "highest priority" to this issue.

Diplomats from India's mission in Washington as well as consulates visited several detention centres in the USA to extend consular assistance to the detained students, the statement said.

Consular Officers from Indian Consulate in Houston met the arrested Indian students at Prairieland Detention Centre, Alvarado, Texas.

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