A bipartisan group of eminent American lawmakers has asked authorities to facilitate consular access to Indians held for enrolling in a fake university allegedly to remain in the United States, and treat them fairly and humanely after the community raised concerns over the manner they were detained.
In multiple raids last month, federal authorities arrested 129 Indians and a Palestinian enrolled as students in the fraudulent university in Metro Detroit area.
The Farmington University was set up by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) investigating unit in Greater Detroit area to bust the ‘pay-and-stay’ racket.
Immigration attorneys claimed that they knew nothing about the varsity's illegal operation and were trapped.
The US State Department said they were aware that they were committing a crime to fraudulently remain in the country.
In a letter, the lawmakers led by Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi urge the DHS and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ensure students detained were treated properly and are afforded all rights provided to them under law, including access to an attorney and release on bond for those eligible.
Written by Congressmen Thomas Souzzi, Rob Woodall and Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, in addition to Krishnamoorthi, the letter also asks the DHS and the ICE to share full details and regular updates regarding the Indian students with the Embassy and Consulates of India, and to facilitate consular access for the detainees.
The lawmakers express 'concerns surrounding the recent undercover operation' conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, in which HSI special agents operated a fake university designed to target recruiters and foreign students believed to be engaged in immigration fraud.
According to the ICE, the investigation began in 2015, and HSI agents have been operating the fake school since 2017.
As per the indictment unsealed last week, eight individuals served as recruiters for the school, enrolling hundreds of foreign nationals as students at the university.
These eight recruiters have been indicted for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
'The Indian-American community and Indian Consulate have expressed concerns regarding the treatment of these detained foreign nationals,' the lawmakers said.
'We urge DHS and ICE to ensure the detained students are treated properly and afforded all rights provided to them under the law, including access to an attorney and release on bond, if they are eligible,' the letter said.
'We further urge DHS and ICE to share full details and regular updates regarding the Indian students with the Embassy and Consulates of India, and to facilitate consular access for the detainees,' the lawmakers said in the letter.
Noting that India is an important strategic partner and friend to the US, the lawmakers said in 2017, Indian students comprised 17.3 per cent of all international students in the country, numbering over 186,000.
As such, these students are a vital pillar of the people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, and they come to the US on grounds of merit, they asserted.
‘In the spirit of continuing cooperation on educational exchange programmes, which benefit both countries economically and culturally, we ask that you ensure the students involved in this case are treated fairly, humanely, and in accordance with due process,’ the Congressmen said.
India said on Tuesday it has obtained consular access to 117 of the 129 Indian students detained in the US for enrolling in a fake university and legal assistance was being extended to them.
The Indian government has continued to closely monitor and take proactive measures to deal with the detention of Indian students, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement in New Delhi.