Federal Appeals Court Rules Students Can Sue ICE Over Sting Operation of ‘Fake University’

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Prospective students who paid thousands of dollars to a fake university created by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be allowed to sue the agency after a federal appeals court ruling on June 25th.


The fake university was created as part of an ICE sting operation aimed at targeting individuals who commit visa fraud. The plan was revealed in 2019 when the agency charged eight people for “harboring aliens for profit.”

The operation was aimed at targeting fraud involving student visas, but the university provided no classes, no curriculum and no educators, according to court documents.

[Teja] Ravi was one of the people fooled when he applied to the fake school, and he was never repaid his tuition, he alleges in the lawsuit.

“The government’s operation eventually came to light, but the government neither provided the paid-for education nor gave Mr. Ravi his money back,” the appeals court wrote in its opinion.

Ravi, a citizen of India who was living in Houston when he applied in 2018, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and all the other students, alleging breach of contract.

Ravi says in the lawsuit that he paid $12,500 in tuition to what he thought was a legitimate higher education institution. He says that he even received emails from people purporting to be university officials, giving it an air of legitimacy.

Two of the other plaintiffs paid tuition costs of $10,000 and $15,000, but received no education. A lower court had previously dismissed the case.


Anna Nathanson, an attorney representing the prospective students, lauded the ruling, saying that it allows “600 students unjustly targeted by this fake ICE university to have their day in court.”

The eight individuals facing indictments are accused of trying to help foreign students remain in the United States by getting them enrolled in the university.

The lawsuit alleges that ICE essentially stole money from individuals who were actually trying to obtain an education, even though the sting operation resulted in the arrests of more than 200 students.

In 2020, a lawsuit was filed against the U.S. government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims by attorneys on behalf of Teja Ravi and other students enrolled at the University of Farmington, which no longer exists after ICE shut it down in 2019 and arrested at least 250 of its students. The suit said the U.S. breached their contract with the students by essentially stealing their tuition money, about $11,000 a year for each student. They are asking for their money back and other punitive damages. But the legal claim was dismissed on technical grounds in 2022 by the Claims Court, which said the case lacked jurisdiction. Three judges with the appeals court overturned that decision on June 25 and remanded the case back to the Claims Court.

The building that was used by ICE agents as the fake University of Farmington campus set up by the Department of Homeland Security, seen on Thursday, February 7, 2019, in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Students allege they were tricked into enrolling at the fake university and paying tuition.


Vance Callender, who was the special agent in charge of the ICE’s Detroit office, defended the agency’s actions. He told reporters:

HSI special agents, as part of this undercover operation, made it abundantly clear in their interactions with potential University of Farmington enrollees that the school did not offer academic or vocational programs of any kind. The individuals who enrolled in the University of Farmington did so intentionally.

The students, most of whom were from India, came to the United States legally on F-1 student visa programs when they enrolled in the fake university. Almost 80 percent of the 250 students were later deported.

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