While some have been able to return to India, others have opted to stay back in the US with the hopes of being able to fight the case.

Months on an uncertain future awaits Indians caught in US Farmington University sting
news Immigration Thursday, August 08, 2019 - 17:33

There is no longer the same tension or apprehension in Ganesh’s* voice as he recounts the past few months. The 22-year-old native of Andhra Pradesh was one of more than a hundred Indians who were detained by officials from the United States Department of Homeland Security via a sting operation in which officials created a fake university intended to trap students who were staying in the country illegally. While Ganesh was able to return to India, countless others remain in the US, some unable to return.

Sai Kiran*, a native of Telangana, is among hundreds of other detainees who were released after paying a bail bond. He chose to remain in the US and is currently at an undisclosed location in California.

“Some people approached them (ICE officers) directly and told them they wanted to return to India and were allowed to do so. Others like myself feel like we have taken so much effort to come all the way here, why not wait and see what the court says?” asks Sai Kiran. Back in India, his family hasn’t revealed the issue to his mother, whom they worry will have a difficult time.

Earlier in January, officials from the US Department of Homeland Security targeted hundreds of foreign students in a massive sting operation termed ‘Paper Chase.’ They did so with the intention of catching students who were attempting to illegally stay in the country.

The officials had planned the trap for over three years and arrested eight Indian origin student recruiters, who reached out to students looking to stay in the US.  The students, upon admission to the university were able to obtain an F-1 visa, a type of non-immigrant student visa that allows foreigners to pursue education in the United States. The students then were able to procure work permits using the work study program (called Curriculum Practical Training), which allowed them to work in the country. Upon receiving a work permit, they would no longer attend college.

Students were taken in by ICE officials on civil charges, while eight recruiters who helped the students enroll in exchange for cash and kickbacks, were charged on criminal grounds. Those who have not opted to return to India can see the case through to the immigration courts, however the date of their hearing is yet to be announced.

Sai Kiran says, “My bond cost me a few thousand dollars and I feel like after putting so much into this, I might as well wait for the court hearing to come and see what will happen. I can try with some of the other students to fight the case, but if it doesn’t work out, I guess we will be forced to go back home."

The detainees who have decided that they will take the matter up to court are now at the mercy of the justice system. “We don’t know when our case will be going for hearing. Every day I have to call the toll free number and find out if there’s been any update. That’s all we can do at present,” he adds.

Ganesh, on the other hand, spoke to ICE officers when he was detained and requested to be sent back to India, which they allowed him to do.

However, not all who want to return have been able to do so with ease.

23-year-old Sravya* was one of the hundreds of Indians detained by ICE officials in January, but she only managed to return home to Hyderabad in July. “They have all the passports of the students who were detained and it is difficult to track down where your documents are. So most people have been told to wait until. Others have chosen to approach the Indian Embassy for emergency travel documents so that they can return home. But they don’t know when or how they will get their passports back.”

Sravya herself had waited for months after the initial issue to return home.

*Names changed

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