Tuesday, April 7, 2020

ICE baiting students with fake university (2015-2019)

ICE baiting students with fake university (2015-2019)

The case

University logo
The university of Farmington was a fake university set up by the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement from Homeland Security Investigations in 2015. The university was created to tempt foreign student who had already arrived legally in the U.S. on legitimate student visas. According to ICE and the prosecutors, “foreign students knowingly enrolled into the fake school to falsely maintain their student visa status and remain in the United States”. In January, eight people who allegedly worked as “recruiters” for the school were charged with federal conspiracy. Also, around 250 students had lost their visas and have also been arrested on charges of immigration and visa fraud and had to be deported immediately. According to the ICE agents and officials about 20% of the students who had been arrested received a deportation notice, the remaining 80% got a notice that they could “voluntarily” leave the United States. After some controversy on the fact that some students might not have known they were enrolled in a fake school and had been unfairly trapped while simply seeking to receive an education legally in the United States. A special agent in charge of the Detroit office of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations made a statement to the press in Detroit that the intentions of the school were clear to the students who had been enrolled.

After ICE let the press know about their actions, it created some controversy. Many did not agree with the way ICE had acted. They thought that these foreign students might not have known what they were getting themselves into. Foreigners don’t know how the school systems work in every other country and it could be possible that they did not know from the start that they would not be getting any educational services and that it was not their intent to try to remain in the country under false pretenses.


Matthew Albence
Director of Immigration and Customs
The stakeholders are the people involved and/or affected by the making of this fake university. The people who are involved in setting up this university are the people of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement from Homeland Security Investigations. The United States Department of Homeland security is a federal agency designed to protect the United States against threats. They have set up this fake university in 2015 to entice student who would violate the terms of the student visas they acquired to receive an education in the United States. The agents and officials who worked on this project are also stakeholders. They acted as the school’s admissions and contact point for the students who were interested in enrolling into the school and helped them to become official students at the set-up university of Farmington. The government is also a stakeholder because they were aware of what was happening, and that Homeland Security was trying to get people who are falsely using their student visas trapped.

Four of the recruiters that have been arrested
The eight recruiters trying to get students into enrolling into the school are stakeholders because they have been affected by being arrested for their illegal actions 
The students who applied to the school are of course also involved in this controversy. They are involved because according to ICE they enrolled into the school with the knowledge that they would not receive an actual education from the university. They are now being deported or awaiting their trials in the United States. A number of them were able to voluntarily go back home.  These students will not be able to get their money that they paid for the education and enrollment in the school back. Because of this, family members or sponsors who paid for the foreign student to receive an education in the United States are also considered a stakeholder. 

Ethical theories


Individualisms values are most importantly the business itself, the owner’s choices and business profits. ICE had set up the fake school not to make a profit for themselves by allowing student to enrol into their program, but it was set up to get foreign student who were using their student visas for the wrong reasons to get caught. This is of course not about making as much profit as possible for a company but about getting people who are violating their acquired student visas, which goes against individualism. Individualism is about making as much profit as possible for the owners and stake-/shareholders of the company whilst staying within the law of the land. 
These students knew, according to the prosecutors, that they were violating the law which is wrong according to individualism. Individualism ethical rule is about staying within the law. We could state that the individualism theory would not agree with the decisions that the students made who knew they were applying to a school that was not legitimate and trying to violate their visas, because this goes against the law. However, the ICE’s Homeland security was not creating the business to make as much profit from the students as possible but using it for different reasons. They wanted these students to get caught in their actions. In my opinion, an individualist would agree that it’s good to make sure that people aren’t violating their visas because this is against the law but, would have a problem of this action not having a goal of creating as much profit as possible. When you look at the action that ICE took it doesn’t necessarily go against the law, but it is more of a question if it is ethical to bait people. Milton Friedman and Tibor Machan, two important individualists, find the pursuit of profit the most important task of a company however this should also be without deception of fraud. An individualist thinker would eventually be against the actions of ICE because they were deceiving students into enrolling into a fake university. 


Looking from this ethical approach to the controversy, we can see that this action by ICE is not validated by this theory. When taking a utilitarian approach, you want happiness to be maximized. Business actions should aim to maximize the happiness in the long run for all conscious beings that are affected by the business actionIn this case ICE’s actions are obviously not making very one happy and satisfied. The students who are being deported and have been arrested are not happier now. If it was unquestionable that these students were trying to remain in the US for the wrong reasons, then they could have expected to be send out of the country. However, this is not sure, if an international student is trying to get an education in the United States and was unfortunate enough to apply to the University of Farmington without seeing any red flags, then they would have actually been hit by this action twice. They would have been let down and confused by the university and after that suddenly been arrested and had to be deported. This has of course made these students very unsatisfied. What also has not made people happy is that ICE is not opening up about how much money this sting-action has costed the US taxpayers and how much money they made with the tuition fees from the students. ICE is also not wanting to say what they are going to do with the money that they had made from this. 


ICE did not respect and honor the individuals and their ethical choices. This is because they manipulated international students to apply to the fake university that they created. They lied about the educational services and, used this as a way to entice students to enroll into their program. This is morally wrong because according to Kantianism ICE should trust the individuals to make the right choices that are rational and permissible. It is in no way permissible to lie, cheat or steal no matter the positive consequences. Kantianism is about people using their ability of making rational decisions, respecting the autonomy of individuals and always being honest and respecting and valuing the freedom of individuals.ICE could have harmed students who were not trying to remain in the United States under false pretenses, they might not have been familiar with the way education in the United States works and did not see the red flag that ICE says they gave but have no specific proof of. If you multiply the actions by ICE you would get a situation where everyone would create fake universities to entice foreign students, this would not work because than there are no real universities to go to for foreign students but also not for American students. The international students who applied to the University of Farmington where used as mere means and not as an end in itself. They were used to achieve something that ICE wanted to prove.  

Virtue theory

This approach differs strongly from the previous three ethical theories because the previous three theories analyze individual actions whereas virtue theory analyzes a person’s character. Some good character traits are honesty, justice, care and compassion. When looking at the character traits of (in this case not an individual but) a company/corporation it is not based on how one person acted but how the company as a whole did. In the case of ICE, they did not value honesty because they set up a fake university and lied to the international students who wanted to enroll into this school. It is very unclear if the students enrolled into the university knowing that they would not get a proper education. ICE is not showing any proof of the students being able to know that they knew this when they enrolled, it relates back to justice. The international students we lied to and possibly had no intention of violating their visas, which is not justifiable. ICE was most likely only in this to make money off of these students and not because they were a threat to the society. It is ICE job to protect the U.S. from cross-border crime and illegal immigration. These students all came into the U.S. on legitimate student visas, that is why there are also questions on why this sting operation needed to happen in the first place and if it has been a waste of taxpayer’s money. ICE had also no compassion with the students who had enrolled into the university, most of them had to leave immediately, or only had a short time to leave, or are awaiting their trials here in the U.S.

Justified ethics evaluation

In my personal opinion ICE made a wrong choice by actually starting this sting operation. It is of course important that international who come here in the United States on a certain visa stick to the rules of those requirements and that they do not violate them. It however is not ethical in my opinion to try to bait people into making the wrong choices and to then punish them for something that might not have been their actual intent to do. 

ICE should have spent their money looking into if foreign students who were enrolled into real universities had been going to classes and not working illegally trying to make some extra money. If the visa does not let foreign students work or make money, ICE should have figured out a way to regulate this. This sting operation by ICE was started in 2015 and continued until 2019. For an operation to go on for this long only to bait students into applying to a fake university and stating that they knew this and were trying to violate the terms of their visas and deport them, you need hard proof. ICE is not opening up to the media about how they knew that these foreign students willingly applied to a fake university that would not give them any education. They might have figured out along the way after enrolling that they wouldn’t receive an education but couldn’t or didn’t know how to unenroll from the school. 

The cost of this operation must have been tremendous because it had been going on for four years and the fact that ICE will not say how much it has costed or what they have made from this operation doesn’t help. ICE should be more open about why they decided to start this operation and show how they did it. If they do this, it could clear up the fact if these students really knew that this was a fake university or not. After that there should really be more discussions on whether or not such an operation is really necessary and not a waste of taxpayer’s money. I think that the money ICE has spent on this fake university could have been spent on much bigger and more important problems, for example cybercrimes, human rights violations, human smuggling and trafficking and transnational gang activity. 

Action plan

In the world that we live in today with a lot of violence and unsolved problems, and even now a pandemic, money should be spend otherwise and not on students who might want to remain in the U.S. under false pretenses even though they already have a legitimate visa that lets them stay here. If ICE wanted to find out which foreign students were violating their visas, they could have looked into students who were already enrolled into real universities and find out whether or not is was their intention to actually receive an education there or that they were illegally working and trying to make money. Finally, ICE should be more open about how much money they have made from the tuition fees and what they are going to use it for.  ICE’s money should only be spent on protecting Americans from cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety. 

Stella Klick

Works cited

CBS News. (2019, November 28). Lawmakers blast "cruel and appalling" ICE sting operation targeting foreign students. Retrieved from cbsnews.com: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ice-sting-operation-university-of-farmington-foreign-students-arrested-blasted-by-elizabeth-warren/
Farzan, A. N. (2019, January 31). ICE set up a fake university. Hundreds enrolled, not realizing it was a sting operation. Washington Post.
Gerstmann, E. (2019, November 30). Understanding The Bizarre ICE Fake University Sting Operation. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/evangerstmann/2019/11/30/understanding-the-bizarre-ice-fake-university-sting-operation/#7a677476553e
Mervosh, S. (2019, January 31). ICE Ran a Fake University in Michigan to Catch Immigration Fraud. The New York Times.
Panetta, G. (2019, November 27). ICE arrested an estimated 250 people who enrolled in a fake university set up by federal authorities as part of an immigration sting operation.
Salazar, H. (2014). The business ethics case manual. Sprinfield, Massachussetts, United States.
USA Today. (2020, January 7). Undercover ICE recordings reveal tactics of fake university that led to 250 students arrested. Retrieved from eu.usatoday.com: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/01/07/ice-fake-university-michigan-farmington-250-students-arrested/2831187001/
Warikoo, N. (2019, December 9). ICE and DOJ defend creating fake university in Michigan that lured foreign students. USA Today.

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