Harvard’s motto is “Veritas,” which is Latin for “truth.”
Plain. Simple. And nothing like the University of Farmington which used as its signature, “Scientia et Labor.”
Only with the U of F, there definitely was no truth there, no science, no labor nor even an actual University of Farmington campus in Michigan.
Go to the website and you’ll see it’s not a real place.
It was a pure scam, set up by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) under Homeland Security investigations.
And without a doubt, it shows ICE had crossed a line. That tends to hurt higher ed much more than you think.
In the wake of the news, a few dozen people across the nation, mostly immigrants from the Telugu ethnic group, are trying to sort out their legal predicament.
They were simply people looking to improve their lot in life with education. And they signed up for a deal they couldn’t refuse.
Pay a discounted tuition, lower than most colleges, around $8,500-$11,000 a year, and don’t even come to class.
That’s what the court documents revealed late January in an alleged “pay to play scheme.”
If you hadn’t heard of this, that’s because the immigration news has been dominated by border wall fervor and the possibility of DACA recipients being part of a compromise.
But this ICE case is worth noting, because it shows the nastiness in the Trump administration’s dealing with immigrants. And it’s dragged the credibility of higher ed through the mud in the process.
U of F was a completely fake university. No professors, no classes. But if you were a foreign national looking for paperwork that would qualify you for a student visa, this was just the ticket.
It was a scheme no less despicable than fake marriage mills of the past. This was a fake college set up by ICE in 2015, according to reports, but put into action when the Trump administration took over in February 2017 and went bonkers over immigration.
Did they get MS13 gang members? Find the drivers of the cars with the trunks full of bound and gagged women with duct taped mouths?
They got ordinary folk looking for opportunity. People looking for education to advance their lives. But when they saw this deal they shrugged and went along.
They wanted to stay in America. Not to commit crimes. They just wanted to satisfy the immigration paper work requirements.
It was called operation “Paper Chase.”
And then they found something too good to be true. You pay money for a degree and you don’t have to study? And it gets you a student visa?
According to reports, there were dozens of arrests made among the 600 students who had signed up to participate. But, beyond students, there were “recruiters” who acted as community scouts to bring people in. Those recruiters also face federal conspiracy charges, and potentially five years in prison if convicted.
The sad thing is these people probably would have gone to a regular college and paid a little more if they didn’t see Farmington first.
Is it fair that they were lured by a government lie?
They fell for a fake school and are now are charged with real crimes with real consequences.
It’s some nasty business when ICE has to create criminals to catch.
There was some hue and cry late last year when some progressive Democrats called for the abolition of ICE. And of course, there was backlash from those who charged Dems with being weak on border security.
But the “abolition” of ICE was merely a call for ICE to refocus on its purpose and how it did its job, ethically, for starters.
True, the U of F scam was set up during the Obama years. But things didn’t get nasty until the Trump administration.
The Obama administration generally worked through jails and prisons to focus on the bad immigrants. The Trump administration, however, has been more into large scale local raids and sweeps, unsettling those living their quiet lives as tax-paying members of their respective communities. They were people who may not have been documented, but they were productive and law abiding who wanted to be a part of our nation. Instead of finding a way to allow them to live their lives, most were put through a torturous separation process and deported.
The Trump approach has led to cities and states establishing sanctuary laws, which does not prevent ICE from doing its job. It only makes sure local and state enforcement stay in their own lanes with their activities and resources. Sanctuary is intended to make sure the locals keep their eyes on their own work. They have enough problems of their own than to do ICE’s job. Surely, ICE’s presence ICE doesn’t help local law enforcement (and I include campus police). ICE only creates a level of distrust, and then no law enforcement agency can do its job. Who in the community would call in a crime if they feared campus police would turn them in to ICE?
Which brings us back to the Farmington lie, er, sting.
I’d say judging from what we know of Trump these last few years, if Trump were from India and heard about Farmington, you know he’d be first in line to sign up.
That’s the problem with sting operations. When you lie to catch your prey, it’s a thin line that separates the good guys from the bad.
And when you use the imprimatur and credibility of higher ed as part of the bait, that’s just plain dirty pool.
Who do you trust in America? Not the government, not ICE, and after all some 8,000 lies or misleading statements documented by The Washington Post Fact Checker, not Trump.
And now after the Farmington fiasco, definitely not higher ed.
Emil Guillermo, a journalist and commentator, writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He is an adjunct professor in journalism at San Francisco State University. You can follow him on Twitter @emilamok