It's happened again. Another immigration-related visa mill has been identified, but not by any agency of the Department of Homeland Security.
This time it is the local police and a plaintiffs' lawyer that are taking the lead. That's the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Police Department; the lawyer is Richard Samms.
The visa mill, which was called most recently the New Life Technical Academy, had as its victims — and perhaps co-conspirators — applicants for temporary legal status under the now two-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It said that it was a legitimate educational institution, but apparently it was not, despite the "diplomas" and "graduation ceremonies".
All of this is eerily similar to the story that played out a couple of years ago in Northern Virginia, where the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA) in Annandale, Va., was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staff, but allowed to continue to operate until it was closed by a usually sleepy arm of Virginia's state government, the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV).
The aliens involved in the Virginia case were primarily from India, they held F-1 visas that had been set in motion by UNVA, and they were not suing. Later UNVA tried to open a "campus" in South Dakota, which has very loose licensing requirements for private-for-profit educational institutions, but subsequently abandoned that effort, as we reported in an earlier blog.
Getting back to the New Life Technical Academy on Jimmie Carter Boulevard in Norcross, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta: Media reporting on the case is sketchy, as seen here and here, but the following apparently happened. There is a legitimate institution elsewhere in the Atlanta suburbs called New Life Technical Academy. One of its former employees, Yessica Jean and her husband, Stanley Jean, used that name, apparently without permission, for their own school, which pitched its services to illegal aliens applying for DACA status.
These services, and here the details are fuzzy, apparently included some classes and fake diplomas and graduation ceremonies. The report says that about 800 students paid the couple from $800 to $5,000 for fake diplomas, some for the GED, and some for certificates for training as medical assistants.
Apparently, when some of the students presented these documents to USCIS as part of either the initial or the renewal of DACA applications (again this nuance is missing in the reports) that agency rejected them. This in turn caused 70 of the illegals to retain Samms, a Norcross attorney (who is not an immigration specialist, according to his own webpage) to file a civil suit against Mr. and Mrs. Jean in the local courts seeking damages.
Phone calls to Mr. Samms were not returned, but his answering machine indicates that he speaks Spanish. Further, the name "Yessica" is likely to be Spanish so it may be surmised that most of the DACA applicants are Hispanics, too. (Both Mr. and Mrs. Jean are speaking Spanish in the video at the bottom of this story.)
Mr. and Mrs. Jean have been arrested, according to the press; it is not clear whether they were jailed. They have not, or not yet, anyway, been charged with any federal crimes. The criminal case against them accuses them of fraudulent use of the name of the other, legitimate school. Similarly, the civil case seems to be in the state courts.
Samms is quoted as saying that the Jeans presented the school as an accredited one, when in fact, it was not.
Neither Samms nor the reporters in the case seem to be aware that the Department of Homeland Security is perfectly happy to deal with unaccredited institutions as the source of documents leading to the issuance of F-1 visas, just so long as they have been licensed by the DHS' Student and Exchange Visitor Program. No entity bearing the name New Life Technical Academy is SEVP registered. (Licensing is a paper process, while accreditation is a review of the quality of a school's educational program.)
Whether the DACA program — which has nothing to do with F-1 visas — has any accreditation requirements for its program is not known, but that strikes me as unlikely given the loose way that this program is run generally. The education requirement in DACA can be met by having a high school diploma or a GED, but it can also be met by the simple assertion that the applicant is enrolled in some kind of educational program at the time the DACA application was filed.
The press and the students' lawyer have presented the students as the hapless victims of this alleged fraud. That some to many of them knew exactly what they were doing, that they were co-conspirators in an attempt to mislead the U.S. government, is a possibility that no one seems to have explored.
I have mixed views of this situation. While it is good to know that this phony educational institution is in trouble, and that someone in DHS is looking carefully enough at some DACA applications to spot the nature of the place, it is distressing that the specialists in this sort of thing at DHS, have done nothing to correct the situation, leaving it to the local cops.