Courts Split on Phony Universities Created by ICE

By David North on April 6, 2022

The federal courts have adopted what appears to be conflicting views on the appropriateness of phony universities set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in its efforts to discourage illegal immigration.

During the Obama years, in 2016, ICE set up a phony educational organization called the University of Northern New Jersey as a trap for illicit brokers of foreign student admissions and foreign students (the latter being more interested in the accompanying work permits than a genuine education).

The university never had any classes and did not even have classrooms. ICE subsequently revealed the institution’s fake quality and moved against some of the students; then some of the students in one of those “suits to settle” moved in court to eliminate the penalties laid on them. Later, the Biden administration caved and granted the “students” the relief they wanted — and the students’ lawyers $450,000 in fees.

More recently, on March 25, in a different judicial setting, a federal judge has ruled that an almost identical operation, this time involving Farmington University in Michigan, could not be sued by a tuition-paying “student” on the grounds that the sting was part of a sovereign law enforcement operation.

This time the court involved is the federal court of claims, a specialized part of the judicial branch that handles financial suits against the government. The New Jersey action was handled by the usual federal district court.

The loser in the most recent case, Teja Ravi, said he had paid $12,000 to Farmington and never got the services he paid for. He should have been suspicious, but was not; the classes were to be given monthly (an odd arrangement in educational circles) and remotely. Ravi, an Indian national, is now back in India. Had he bothered to visit the “campus” he would have found no classrooms.

Ravi is appealing his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. He had previously studied at Northwestern Polytechnic University in the Bay area, a marginal institution that has been in and out of trouble for years and whose casual educational policies were exposed by a BuzzFeed article carrying the headline: "How one California University faked students' scores, skated by immigration authorities — and made a fortune in the process".

The author of that stinging article, unfortunately, is no longer dealing with either immigration or educational matters. Molly Hensley-Clancy is now the investigative reporter for the Washington Post’s sports section, a job title I had never seen before.

Neither Judge Nancy Firestone, of the claims court, nor the Law360 reporter, picked up on Ravi’s taste in American universities as a factor in the case. Were I the judge, I would have found it significant.

That case is Teja Ravi v. U.S., number 20-1237 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.