Here's the scenario: A U.S. consular official at an overseas location is facing an alien who wants a student (F-1) visa. The alien has a piece of paper from an American graduate school that says he has been admitted and is eligible for the visa. He also has documentation of his graduation from a local college.
The first problem: The officer has never heard of (as most people have not) the American College of Commerce and Technology (ACCT) in Falls Church, Va., the entity that has issued the Form I-20 needed by an F-1 applicant. ACCT is a for-profit entity with an almost completely alien student body, and last year its only shred of accreditation disappeared when its accreditor was de-recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
The officer's response: He checks the Department of Homeland Security's website for its long list of educational institutions that are allowed to cause the admission of the foreign students. This carries the promotional name of "Study in the States" and is maintained by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), an entity of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The officer tries the Study in the States search tool and finds no entry for ACCT, but knowing the internal failings of this list, he then goes to the actual alphabetical list (some 8,000 names) and finds ACCT there. Sensing that the alien applicant is plausible and that ACCT is on the approved list, our mythical officer issues the F-1 visa, and the alien comes to the United States and is admitted at an airport by an inspector.
The same scenario could take place with a would-be alien law student at the for-profit Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina, except in this case the DHS search engine works, and shows CSL as a DHS-approved educational institution.
Reality Check: In fact, neither school is accepting students, but their ghostly existence on the "Study in the States" list would allow people with outdated I-20s (or counterfeit ones) from such schools to come to the United States and, on arrival, to become instant illegal aliens. Most of those traveling this route would know what they are doing, but a few might be surprised on their arrival to find that they could not attend the institution of their choice.
There are many, many such ghostly institutions on the DHS list.
In the case of ACCT, a state agency, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), on May 1 ordered ACCT (a very marginal educational institution) to stop accepting students until its accreditation status could be confirmed. Similarly, as the New York Times reported, the Charlotte School of Law has been closed by order of the state's attorney general. Neither school accepts new students, but you cannot tell that from the DHS listing.
Let's look at who gains and who loses with these ghostly listings.
The losers, beyond the concept of accuracy, itself, are: the American public, which does not need more illegal aliens; the innocent alien students with the outdated I-20s; and legitimate providers of higher education to aliens who might have secured their admissions.
The ghost schools are neither losers nor winners as they can no longer profit from the admission of alien students since they are not accepting new students.
The winners include a handful of unlawful alien college students (who have secured entry to the United States in a lawless way) and an SEVP bureaucrat or two who does not have to make a decision.
But despite this imbalance of winners and losers, the ghostly listings persist.
The rationale for this situation, I learned from a ranking SEVP official, is that the schools must be given an opportunity to exhaust administrative appeals before they are removed from the DHS-approved list. This is, of course, the typical argument of a relaxed regulator who has "client-itis", an obsession with the interests of the regulated parties over those of the broader public.
But in this case the zealous concern for these for-profit schools, while it harms the public interest, does nothing for those schools, who cannot profit from the listings because they no longer accept students.
Maybe the new administration can solve this small problem — and maybe it will not.