Forget the Harvards and Yales, Let's Look at the Other End of the Spectrum

By David North on May 14, 2014

Let's turn our attention away, for the moment, from the Harvards and the Yales, the MITs and the Stanfords, and think about other end of the academic spectrum — four "academic" institutions in the United States that have violated the immigration law repeatedly.

In only one of the four cases did the federal government move swiftly to end the violations.

This is where the situation stands now regarding: Tri-Valley University and Herguan University, both in California's Bay Area; the University of Northern Virginia; and Adam University in Denver.

Tri-Valley. The latest development here is that the founder and former president of Tri-Valley, Susan Xiao-Ping Su, was found guilty on 31 counts, including visa fraud, by a federal court on March 24. The trial has been going on for three years; sentencing is set for later this summer. Ms. Su, and this is unusual in white-collar cases, has been in custody throughout the process.

This is the only case in which government acted swiftly and decisively. After ICE raided the campus three years ago, as we reported at the time, and after finding a lot of evidence indicating that this was a visa mill, not a genuine educational institution, ICE terminated Tri-Valley's power to issue the form I-20, which permits the grant of F-1 visas to foreign students. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of aliens, mostly from India, had paid millions for these documents.

ICE discovered, among other things, that more than 550 aliens were noted in the university's data system as living in the same small apartment in central California; there were many other indices of widespread fraud.

While the decision to close the school was about as controversial in the United States as the raiding of a moonshiner's still, it drew a lot of negative press attention in India, where the "students" were regarded as victims, not co-conspirators — and ICE has not acted so vigorously since.

An odd element of the case can be seen in the courts' electronic record system (PACER); for users it is case 4:11-cr-00288-JST. Either the defendant, or a relative, has started a letter writing campaign — all in Chinese — to the judge. In the American system of law a non-lawyer is not supposed to write directly to the judge about a pending case — those are called ex parte communications — and all such letters are printed in the PACER files, including the envelopes in which they arrived.

So here we have a flow of prose that the judge, presumably, cannot read being published at the judge's order, but without any translation, which I suppose makes sense. If they are not supposed to exist, why translate? Ms. Su's lawyer certainly has no motivation for wanting the letters translated; he wants them to go away. But the question remains: What are those letters saying to the judge?

Herguan. This entity, located about 10 minutes' drive from Tri-Valley, was raided by ICE in 2012, as we reported earlier, but in this case ICE only suspended the issuance of the I-20s for a short time, and then allowed Herguan to continue operations. For a while ICE, appropriately, regarded it as a visa mill, but then thought again.

But a more assertive federal agency, the Justice Department, hauled the founder and owner and CEO of the place into federal court on a cluster of fraud and immigration law violations. In this case the owner (I found it awkward to write about an "owner" of a university), Jerry Wang, is facing a jury trial this summer. Wang, unlike the jailed Ms. Su of Tri-Valley, is out on bail, at least for the moment.

The quality of teaching at Herguan — at least in English — was exposed in a remarkably inaccurate and nearly illiterate web page last year, regarding an August graduation ceremony, which CIS reproduced un-retouched. Herguan must have agreed with our critique; the item disappeared soon after the CIS blog was printed.

Will ICE withdraw its license of this place if Jerry Wang is convicted? That's an open question.

University of Northern Virginia. I have visited this one; it is in Annandale, in the DC suburbs, and when I was there it operated out of few basement offices and had four small classrooms — I think they actually had some classes, notably in English as a Second Language, and some weekend engineering classes.

ICE raided it, too, on visa mill grounds in 2011, as we reported earlier, an event also covered by the prestigious Chronicle of Higher Education. ICE briefly suspended its power to issue the I-20, and then relented and allowed it to stay in business for another two years.

In this case the Commonwealth of Virginia decided that since UNVA could not — despite years of trying — get accreditation from an accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, it could not longer offer classes. That decision was made in the fall of 2013. (Bear in mind that the Virginia state government is as enthusiastic about closing a for-profit entity as the Pakistani government is in cracking down on Al-Qaeda.)

Some weeks after Virginia made this move, ICE decided, finally, that UNVA could no longer issue the I-20. UNVA's recent efforts to re-establish itself in South Dakota were quashed thanks to the alertness of the local office of the Associated Press.

UNVA, however, is, if you believe its website, still taking money from foreign studentsin one specific way; it will, for $100, provide a former student with the all-important OPT extension form, which allows the former student to continue working legally in the United States.

OPT (Optional Practical Training) allows a former F-1 student to stay in the United States and to work for a period of 12 months or 29 months depending on the subjects the student studied. That OPT is managed by the former educational institutions of the aliens was the subject of a recent critical study by the Government Accountability Office.

UNVA's owner-president-CEO, unlike those of the other three CEO's covered by this blog, has not been indicted. He is Daniel Ho, and the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that he is also the owner of three Chinese grocery stores.

Adam University. This is a different kind of phony university. It had no physical presence and it had no students, but was created, out of whole cloth, as a false vehicle to bring nurses to the United States on H-1B visas. On 24 different occasions, over a period of years, it convinced the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security, and State to issue visas to Filipina women as nursing instructors — they later were exploited by the middlemen and pushed into jobs in senior living facilities. (There is currently no avenue for nurses to be admitted in nonimmigrant worker program as nurses, as we reported in an earlier CIS report.)

The latest in this case is that the major conspirator, Kizzy Kalu, found guilty by jury on 89 of 95 counts last year, was sentenced earlier this year to 130 months in prison; his (government-funded) lawyers have appealed the judgment and the sentence to the federal circuit court, but Kalu remains in custody.

The imaginary president of the imaginary university, Philip Langerman, apparently a lesser player in the scheme, cooperated with the prosecution, pled guilty to a single count, was sentenced to three years of probation, and, because of "inability to pay", was told to pay no more than $100 a month toward restitution of the victims' finances.

SEVP. The DHS entity licensing the first three of the four institutions mentioned above, the Student Exchange Visitor Program (part of ICE), has just issued one of its ultra-bland quarterly reports. It is formatted landscape style, runs 28 pages, and has many nicely colored charts, some maps of the world, and easy-to-read, large type, but the fact that the agency has serious enforcement responsibilities and that there are serious problems in that connection, such as those described above, cannot be gleaned from even a very careful reading of the text.

The report does have some interesting numbers about foreign students generally. It says that it counted 1,015,178 foreign students in the United States, mostly F-1s, but some M-1s (vocational students). I suspect that this figure either is a little high or includes some people who are no longer legally present, as the agency has better numbers on incoming foreign students than those leaving that status. It would be helpful if SEVP told us what portion of the million were, in fact, students, and what portion were former students, now working in the U.S. economy on the OPT program. It could do so but does not.

The foreign student population is three-quarters Asian, with China alone contributing 29 percent of the total. More than a third of the foreign students are in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.