Indian students in US radio-tagged;angry govt says remove it
Washington January 30:
More than a dozen Indian students from among hundreds who have been scammed by a dodgy university in California have been radio-tagged with tracking devices in an action New Delhi described as "unwarranted," and asked to be removed even as angry community activists said it is a violation of their rights and dignity.
Authorities from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who interrogated scores of Indian students who were evidently conned by the sham Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, California, left radio-tracking devices on the ankles of several victims. The students said officials told them the devices, fitted with GPS technology, were meant to keep track of their movements while the administration examined their cases.
Scores of Indian students, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, are caught up in a scam in which the dubious university allegedly helped foreign nationals illegally acquire immigration status. Investigations by US authorities found that while students were admitted to residential and on-line courses of the university and on paper lived in California, in reality they worked illegally in various parts of the country as far as Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
The students say they were unaware of the dodgy nature of the university and they were conned. In a petition to the secretary of homeland security and the director of ICE, the affected students said they registered in the university believing it is a "bonafide and legitimate university that had been registered with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database."
SEVIS is a web-based technology maintained by the US to track and monitor schools and programs, students, exchange visitors and their dependents, while they are legally enrolled in the US education system. Indeed, Tri-Valley University is among the SEVIS Approved Schools listed on the US ICE website. Authorities have since shut down the university.
But US officials say some of the students obtained their visa fraudulently and others are in violation of their visa and immigration status. Such students have been placed under ISAP (Intense Supervision and Appearance Program) by ICE and put in removal proceedings, necessitating radio-tagging. Not all students have been tagged. Foreign students typically come to US under the F-1 visa and are generally not permitted to work except for 20 hours a week or less of on-campus employment.
"US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for enforcing the nation's immigration and customs laws. If ICE encounters individuals during the course of an investigation who are found to be in violation of their immigration status, the agency will take follow-up action consistent with the agency's enforcement priorities," ICE spokesperson Lari Haley said. "Those priorities include persons who've overstayed or violated the terms of their visas, and those who have exploited the nation's legal immigration system by gaining their status through fraud."
But New Delhi is not happy with students being treated like criminals. Expressing "serious concern," a government spokesman said India has conveyed to the US authorities that the students, "most of who are victims themselves, must be treated fairly and reasonably, and that the use of monitors on a group of students, who were detained and later released with monitors in accordance with US laws, is unwarranted and should be removed."
The spokesman said students should be given ample opportunity to clarify their position and present their case; those who wish to return to India should be allowed to do so voluntarily; those students who have not violated any visa or immigration laws should be given opportunity to adjust their status; and, those who are eligible to seek transfer to other universities should be given adequate opportunity and time to do so.
The spokesman said India had also asked the US government to "provide us full information on the affected students and keep us informed as the investigation unfolds, as well as, on the action being taken against the promoters of the university and others involved in perpetrating the fraud."
On Friday, ICE announced that it had set up an email address and voicemail that Tri-Valley students can use to contact ICE homeland security investigations directly with their questions. Affected students can call the US number 415-844-5320 and leave a voice message and an ICE representative will return the call. Students can also write to seeking help. Incidentally, several members of the Union Council of Ministers, including external affairs minister SM Krishna, studied in the US.