A reader of mine, someone I had never met before, knew that I had written about schools that served as "visa mills" for foreign students and wanted to talk with me about a specific one that we both had visited. We set up a lunch date at a bar and grill in the suburbs.
Not knowing the location, I gave myself plenty of time to drive to the place and found myself ultra-early. As I waited at the bar I started reading the September 8 issue of Interpreter Releases, the immigration lawyers' staid trade paper.
My eye was drawn to an IR report on a decision by the Second Circuit regarding an asylum case filed by Weinong Lin, an illegal alien. He argued that he would be persecuted if forced to return to China. He said that in 2007 he had joined something called the China Democratic Party World Union (CDPWU) and participated in some protests at the Chinese consulate in New York City. In its decision, the Second Circuit said:
Further, the IJ expressed the view, based on the scrupulous photographic records that the CDPWU made of its protest activities, that the group seems more devoted to documenting its activity than on having an effect.
The Second Circuit's document number is 12-179-ag; it was decided on August 19. (IR is not available online to non-subscribers.) The case was remanded back to the immigration judge for reconsideration.
However this one turns out, it struck me that someone had come up with a clever technique to fortify (or to create out of whole cloth) asylum cases. One could gin up a totally bogus protest organization, record its activities carefully, and then use those records in asylum cases. This struck me as on a par with the guy who tried to use a phony divorce (not a phony marriage, which is pretty common) in order to secure an immigration benefit, as I reported earlier.
I was silently speculating on whether the creation of a questionable protest agency was a one-off arrangement or a widespread practice when my informant appeared in the bar.
At first we discussed the visa mill we had both discovered; he years before I did. He said that it was owned by Turks when he knew it; I said it was subsequently purchased by a Chinese businessman and was now inactive, though it maintained a small office for reasons that were not clear to either of us. We grumbled to each other about the overly casual regulation that the Department of Homeland Security provides for these marginal institutions.
As lunch progressed, his attention turned to a different Chinese-owned private, for-profit university in the suburbs, one that he suspected had far more ambitious goals than taking tuition money from F-1 students. He said that he was pretty sure that the owner (I continue to have trouble with the notion that a university can have an owner) was very well connected with the Chinese government. He also knew the nature of its concentration — it offered courses in management to U.S. military officers, who often find it useful to advance their careers by securing an advanced degree, such as an MBA.
Then the speculation began: Couldn't such a school provide first-class instruction in management, market to the military, and charge reasonable fees, all with a hidden motive? That motive is reading the theses written by officers on their own management experiences. Their work, by definition, would be in the military.
Might not a collection of such papers turn up useful intelligence for a foreign power? All without any risky wire-tapping or theft of government papers?
The instructors need not be in on the scheme, nor anyone but the school's owner. Would our government notice? Probably not.
While far from commendable, it was clearly creative!
As we left the place, my informant and I promised to stay in touch.