India on Saturday issued a demarche to the American Embassy in New Delhi, expressing concern over the detention of 129 Indian students in the United States, and sought immediate consular access to them.
The External Affairs 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'.
As many as 129 Indians are among the 130 foreign students arrested on Wednesday by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents for enrolling at a fake university, allegedly to remain 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," the MEA said.
The ministry underlined to the US Embassy that the 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 Indian mission and consulates have visited several detention centres throughout the US to extend consular assistance to the detained students, the MEA said.
"So far, about 30 Indian students have been contacted by our consular officers. Efforts to contact the remaining Indian students are continuing," it said.
A spokesperson from the American Embassy said, "We can confirm that the embassy received a demarche from the Ministry of External Affairs about the Indian citizens detained in the United States this week."
The MEA said a 24/7 helpline has been established in the Indian Embassy in Washington for assistance and queries related to the detention of Indian students.
The helpline numbers are: +1-202-322-1190 and +1-202-340-2590 and the email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ministry said the Indian government and the Indian Embassy and consulates in the US attach the highest priority to the welfare of the detained students and will continue to work with the American authorities and other stakeholders to address the issue.
The Indian Embassy has also appointed a nodal officer to handle and coordinate all issues related to helping Indian students affected by the busting of the 'pay-and-stay' racket run by a group of Indians that has put some 600 students under trouble.
The ICE, till Thursday, had arrested 130 students from the fake Farmington University in Greater Detroit area.
The ICE officials said 129 of them are Indian nationals. The fake university was opened by Homeland Security Investigations to trap those involved in illegal student visa racket. It has now been closed.
The arrest of such a large number of students has created panic among the Indian students.
Federal investigators say the students who took admission in the university knew that the university programme was illegal.
US Officials said all of them face deportation, besides being put under detention. A number of students have been put under some kind of house arrest with tracking device on their ankle, that prohibits them from moving out of a designated area in their neighbourhood.
As part of its investigations, earlier this week, the ICE arrested eight recruiters on criminal charges. From their names it appears that all of them are either Indian nationals or Indian-Americans.
"These suspects aided hundreds of foreign nationals to remain in the United States illegally by helping to portray them as students, which they most certainly were not. HSI remains vigilant to ensure the integrity of US immigration laws and will continue to investigate this and other transnational crimes," said Special Agent Charge Francis.
According to the ICE, in 2017, as many as 2,49,763 Indian students were enrolled in the various American universities.
Students from China topped the list with 4,81,106 in 2017.
This is for the first time probably that such a large number of Indian students have been arrested in one go.
Consular officers from Indian Consulate in Houston have met the arrested Indian students at Prairieland Detention Centre, Alvarado, Texas.