ICE's Fake University: A Sting, not Entrapment

But ongoing, unglamorous work to address foreign student violators still isn't happening

By Dan Cadman on December 3, 2019

Not long ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it was shutting down a sting operation it had surreptitiously run that involved setting up a fake "university" — a hollow shell with no classrooms, no classes or identifiable curricula, and no professors. It was pretty much nothing more than an online presence and a statement that "graduates" would receive degrees, and that it was authorized to accept foreign students.

When ICE shut down the university, it went after the aliens who, looking for a way to pose as foreign students while in fact doing other things like working illegally, had registered at the university rather than attend accredited institutions where they would have been expected to actually study and learn before being granted a degree. Apparently about 250 aliens were taken into custody; not a huge number, but not shabby either. (Eight recruiters have also been convicted on criminal charges.)

Needless to say, in short order a number of progressives of an open-borders mindset began howling about ICE's dirty underhanded entrapment of those poor innocents who got lured in and find themselves in legal troubles now.

The operation and its results leave me with three thoughts:

First, credit where credit is due: It was a pretty slick maneuver and did in fact lead to the arrest of foreign student poseurs of the kind who often take advantage of liberal visa-granting procedures to come to the United States with no real intention of gaining an education. They simply want to get here and quickly and quietly slip away to blend in as if they held green cards and had the right to live in the United States. How much better, though, when you can do all that and still maintain at least the fiction that you're not violating the conditions of your admission because you're enrolled somewhere. "Farmington University", the fake school, was there like low-hanging fruit waiting to be plucked.

Second, it was inevitable that someone would cry foul and use the word "trap", which shows nothing but ignorance about the legal rules governing sting operations to ensure that federal enforcement agencies don't engage in entrapment. Entrapment occurs when individuals are strongly induced or pressured into undertaking illegal activities that they would not otherwise have engaged in. That doesn't describe ICE's fake university operation. All ICE did in this case was to set up the shell and sit back, like a spider in the middle of its web waiting to see what fools would stumble in. No one was pressured or in any way prevailed upon to sign up who wasn't already looking to game the system. So, no, this operation, which apparently had the backing and legal advice of the U.S. attorney's office to be sure it stayed on the right side of the rules governing stings, wasn't entrapment.

Third, I'm not sure the sting had any real impact on the very significant problem of foreign student visa violators, who break the rules at a higher rate than any other category of nonimmigrants admitted to the United States and who constitute a risk to the national security for a variety of reasons. The question is one of numbers and accretion. ICE's Homeland Security Investigations division (HSI), which ran the sting, is also responsible for policing nonimmigrant overstays and violators generally, and foreign students specifically. This sting may have lured in 250 individuals who deserve to be arrested for their egregious stupidity, but it has nothing to do with the daily slog of actually going out on a routine basis and arresting the tens of thousands of so-called foreign students and exchange scholars who overstay or quit school each year, many of whom are from nations of concern to the United States. That work isn't sexy and isn't going to garner headlines, yet would do far more to safeguard our nation's interests than what HSI did with the fake university. This is the kind of work that HSI has routinely shunted to the bottom of its list, along with a host of other kinds of unglamorous immigration work (see here, here, and here), and for that I not only fault HSI, but ICE and DHS leadership because they have allowed it to be the norm.