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US immigration authorities arrest scores of Indians for illegal stay


The Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency have arrested scores of Indian students, mainly from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, in a nationwide crackdown on foreign students who were staying on in the United States illegally.
According to the American Telugu Association, eight Indian student recruiters have been charged in a US federal court for participating in a conspiracy to help at least 600 foreign nationals stay in the U.S. illegally, according to the indictments.
The eight Indians charged were named in media reports as: Barath Kakireddy, 29, of Lake Mary, Florida; Suresh Kandala, 31, of Culpeper, Virginia; Phanideep Karnati, 35, of Louisville, Kentucky; Prem Rampeesa, 26, of Charlotte, North Carolina; Santosh Sama, 28, of Fremont, California; Avinash Thakkallapally, 28, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Aswanth Nune, 26, of Atlanta; and Naveen Prathipati, 26, of Dallas.
The US authorities arrested around 100 Indians, mainly Telugu speaking, on Wednesday and issued warrants for the arrest of 600 persons.
The conspiracy came to light after the Department of Homeland Security set up a fake university in Farmington Hills to target foreign students who wanted to stay in the U.S. without proper authorization, according to federal indictments unsealed in Detroit on Wednesday.
The students enrolled at the fake university with the intent to obtain jobs under a student visa program called CPT (Curricular Practical Training) that allows students to work in the U.S., said prosecutors.
The U.S. government says the Dept. of Homeland Security created a fake university at 30500 Northwestern Hwy. in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The University of Farmington describes itself on its website as a real university, but was fake, according to indictments unsealed on January 30, 2019.
The indictment states that the university was not staffed with instructors or educators, had no curriculum, no classes and no education activities. From February 2017 until earlier this month, undercover agents posed as owners and employees of the university.
"Each of the foreign citizens who 'enrolled' and made 'tuition' payments to the University knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study - a 'pay to stay' scheme,'" the indictment reads. "Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorization under the CPT program."
It goes on to allege that each student knew the university's programmes were not approved by Homeland Security and that it was illegal.
The eight people charged profited from the scheme. They created fake student records and transcripts with the intent of deceiving authorities, the indictment reads.
The university has a .edu website set up with a physical address to a building on Northwestern Highway just south of 13 Mile.
The American Telugu Association, in a statement on its Facebook page, said the affected students and their friends alerted them about the arrests.
Following calls for help, the ATA in various cities swung into action. "Since the early hours of Jan 30th, 2019, the ATA Legal team and local ATA teams have reached out to the Indian Students Associations of various universities. They have been extending guidance to the students and affected parties by advising and counselling them on the next course of action.
"ATA has contacted several attorneys and confirmed that arrest warrants for 600 students have been issued. 100 students connected to the Farmington University have been arrested."
The American Telugu Association met with Indian Ambassador Harshvardhan Shringla, the Indian Consulate General of India, Dr. Swati Vijay Kulkarni in Atlanta, and briefed them about the developments.
An official with ICE said the students involved in this case had come to the U.S. legally to study at universities, but then transferred to the University of Farmington after they arrived in order to work, the Detroit Free Press said.
Rahul Reddy, an immigration attorney in Houston, said in a live-stream on YouTube that students who may have been enrolled at the university were detained in Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte, and St. Louis. Reddy said that concerned students contacted him Wednesday.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman.
The American Telugu Association urged "students to be wary of fake agents who promise illegal ways to stay in USA through admissions in unaccredited colleges and universities.

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First Published: Jan 31 2019 | 5:31 PM IST

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