Things That Matter

People Call To #AbolishICE After Finding Out The Agency Created A Fake University To Lure Students, Then Arrest Them

Roughly 10 months ago federal court documents were unsealed that showed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) created a fake university to lure immigrants with student visas into fraudulent behavior, according to the Washington Post. The University of Farmington was a fake school in Detroit, Michigan, where ICE agents worked as staff, there were no courses or teachers, and immigrants who had been in the U.S. with F1-visas were recruited.

Immigrant rights advocates believe ICE tricked these people into registering with the fake school, unbeknownst to them, so that they would falsely report they had enrolled in a real school to immigration services, ultimately resulting in the arrest of 250 people. ICE alleges that the students who enrolled knew the school was fake. 

In January, eight “recruiters” were charged with federal conspiracy. 

According to the Detroit Free Press, seven of the eight recruiters have pleaded guilty to aiding 600 students to live in the United States under false pretenses. Farmington alleged to be a graduate school with a focus on STEM. Most of the students were immigrants from India who entered on F1-Visas legally through acceptance to different schools. 

They transferred to the fake university and when the federal government shut it down, their visas expired with the school’s closure. However, the students’ lawyers allege they had no reason to believe what they were doing was illegal. 

“They should not punish these people who were lured into a trap,” Rahul Reddy, an attorney involved with the case, told the Detroit Free Press. “These people can’t even defend themselves properly because they’re not given the same rights in deportation proceedings.”

The Department of Homeland Security and a third party that accredits universities, listed Farmington as a certified school international students could attend.

ICE claims the students knew the university was fake and committed fraud to stay in the country.

“Undercover schools provide a unique perspective in understanding the ways in which students and recruiters try to exploit the non-immigrant student visa system,” ICE said in the statement.

According to prosecutors, the eight recruiters helped to create fraudulent records like transcripts to students to show to immigration officials. The recruiters received $250,000 in kickbacks, largely from undercover ICE agents. However, the university was entirely run by the government and it was the government that profited from the sting, according to Reddy. 

“They made a lot of money,” Reddy said, adding. “They preyed upon on them.”

Farmington tuition was on average $12,000 per year. The school’s website touted photos of classrooms and teachers, but none of those things actually existed or were conducted at the location. Since it opened in 2015, the fake university collected millions from students who never received an education. 

One of the recruiters, Prem Rampeesa, believed he was working with real school officials who turned out to be undercover agents, according to his attorney. He was sentenced to one year in prison with 295 days already served, after completion of his sentence he will be deported to India. 

“Their true intent could not be clearer,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Helms wrote in Rampeesa’s sentencing memo. “While ‘enrolled’ at the University, one hundred percent of the foreign citizen students never spent a single second in a classroom. If it were truly about obtaining an education, the University would not have been able to attract anyone, because it had no teachers, classes, or educational services.”

However, students say they tried to attend classes and were confused that there weren’t any. 

Workers near Farmington told WXYZ that they saw plenty of students come by asking when school would start or complaining they could not get in contact with staff. For advocates this paints a clear picture, ICE created a school, claimed it was legitimate, got immigrants to transfer or enroll in it, refused to provide educational services, and arrested the students essentially for not figuring out the school was fake. 

A 2008 ICE handbook illustrates that ICE agents don’t have to follow the same rules as other members of law enforcement, for example, they are not advised to entrap individuals, but exceptions are allowed.

“ICE knowing this or DHS knowing this tries to ensnare as many people as possible and get them wound up in an immigration system where they know that the cards are going to be stacked against the immigrant,” Angelo Guisado, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told the Guardian. 

Since January, ICE has arrested 250 students on administrative charges, according to Detroit Free Press, however, about 80 percent have agreed to voluntary departure. Half of the remaining students have received final orders of removal, while the rest are contesting their removals. 

“This is not the first fake university that DHS created and I don’t think it will be the last,” Guisado said. 

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Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

Things That Matter

Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

As the United States experiences a so-called surge of people attempting to enter the U.S., human traffickers and smugglers are working double time as they try to capitalize on the increased movements.

Cartels and human traffickers have long run their smuggling operations like a legitimate business but they’ve only got more advanced in how they move people across the border region and one key tool: color-coded bracelets. These bracelets almost act as passports for migrants to safely cross a cartel’s territory without interference or threats of violence. But what do these bracelets mean and how are they fueling the problem of human trafficking?

Plastic bracelets are being used by cartels to identify migrants in their territory. 

U.S. border agents carried out nearly 100,000 apprehensions or rapid expulsions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, which is the highest monthly total since mid-2019. With the increase in people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, cartels are managing this migration of people over their territory and trying to make money off the humanitarian crisis. 

Many cartels have implemented a color-coded bracelet system that identifies those migrants who have paid for permission to cross their territory. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, Border Patrol agents have recently encountered immigrants wearing the bracelets during several apprehensions, Matthew Dyman, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told Reuters.

The “information on the bracelets represents a multitude of data that is used by smuggling organizations, such as payment status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman said.

The color-coded system isn’t totally understood.

Credit: ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the journey to the United States and human smugglers have to pay off drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico. This is a money-making operation and cartels want to pay close attention to who has paid. The bracelets may just be a new way to keep track.

Criminal groups operating in northern Mexico, however, have long used systems to log which migrants have already paid for the right to be in gang-controlled territory, as well as for the right to cross the border into the United States, according to migration experts. In fact, in 2019, smugglers kept tabs on rapidly arriving Central American migrants by double checking the names and IDs of migrants before they got off the bus to make sure they had paid. 

One man, a migrant in Reynosa – across the border from McAllen, Texas – who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a picture of a purple wristband he was wearing. He told them that he had paid $500 to a criminal group in the city after he arrived from Honduras to ensure that he wasn’t kidnapped or extorted. He said once migrants or their smugglers have paid for the right to cross the river, which is also controlled by criminal groups, they receive another bracelet.

“This way we’re not in danger, neither us nor the ‘coyote,’” he told Reuters.

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Tate’s Cookies Threatened to Report Undocumented Workers to ICE If They Unionized

Culture

Tate’s Cookies Threatened to Report Undocumented Workers to ICE If They Unionized

Photo via chocolleto/Instagram

Fans of the crispy, buttery Tate’s cookies might be sad when they hear this news. According to current employees, the popular cookie business has been threatening employees who are trying to unionize.

According to multiple employees, Tate’s cookies threatened to contact ICE if workers vote to unionize next month.

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According to Gothamist, most of Tate Bake Shop’s 432 employees are undocumented workers. But the National Labor Relations Act says that undocumented workers have a lawful right to unionize.

The powerhouse baked goods company Mondelēz International owns Tate’s cookies. Additionally, Mondelēz owns other popular brands like Oreo and Chips Ahoy. Local union leaders have called the company “anti-union on steroids”.

Once Tate’s cookies heard rumblings of their workers unionizing, however, they hired an anti-labor consultant. The consultant, Carlos Flores, brags on LinkedIn about keeping businesses “labor free”.

“They began threatening people based on their immigration status, telling them that if their documents are not in order and they attempted to join the labor union they would get deported,” said Eastern States’ Union president, Cosmo Lubrano.

The consultant allegedly told workers that he would review their documentation to see if “everything was in order”. If it wasn’t, he said ICE might “send them back”.

“Just because a worker wants to organize, wants to have representation doesn’t mean a company should make their life miserable,” said Julio, an undocumented worker, to The New York Times.

Tate’s cookies employees only began to discuss the possibility of unionizing when the pandemic hit. Workers felt that the cookie company might not protect them should they fall ill.

“We were in the heart of the pandemic at that time and they didn’t know any of the rules that applied to them,” said Anthony Miranti, an Eastern States’ union delegate.

“Will they get paid if they have to self-quarantine? How do they get safety equipment? They were telling us about how they’re all at minimum wage and needed more paid time off and there was just nobody to listen to their problems.”

Officially, Mondelēz denies all claims or threatening workers. They released a statement saying: “Any allegation that the company has violated any aspect of the National Labor Relations Act is untrue. Tate’s prides itself on treating all its employees with respect, and we have fostered over many years an inclusive, supportive, caring work environment and culture with our employees.”

Despite the threats to their livelihood, many workers still believe unionizing will ultimately be beneficial.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who work in union shops. They say things are better,” said an undocumented worker by the name of Catalina to the New York Times. “Why not give this an opportunity?”

As Miranti says, “I think the workers that produce these products should be able to put their heads down on their pillows at night and know their job is secured, that their family has the best coverage out there, that they’ll have a pension to retire on someday.”

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