Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
ICE set up a fake university; 100s enrolled, not realizing it was a sting op (washingtonpost.com)
45 points by malshe 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments



Might as well say the same thing here that I said on Twitter: this is a waste of government resources for the sake of being mean. ICE has a charter - to investigate and infiltrate border-crossing crime groups. Drugs, human trafficking, money laundering, that kind of thing. This particular op had no chance of finding anything like that. It was targeted at people who posed no harm to anybody. Yes, maybe it could have caught a few of the people ICE is supposed to be looking for, but almost by accident. The price in both dollars and in liberty was too high for that to be a strategy, and there's no way that was even in the minds of the people who planned or implemented it.

ICE as it exists should be abolished. Even some ICE old-timers who were doing its real work say so. A new agency with ICE's original charter would be a reasonable thing to have, but there's no way to get that under the current structure.


Well said. I wish they would actually go after the fraudulent diploma mills and sham universities that exist only for visas. Why not run sting ops against them by posing as students instead of against fricking students trying to maintain immigration status?

I lost it at this:

>The Department of Homeland Security’s list of certified schools where international students can enroll includes the University of Farmington.

I don't know the specifics but can someone explain why this is not entrapment?

What next, leave warm blankets near the homeless saying they're free to take and then arrest them for theft?

Also DHS's list of certified schools just lost all its meaning and legitimacy. If MIT is on that list it might as well be a fraudulent university for all we know.

This kind of shenanigans will just further plummet the already lower university enrollment.


If you are setting up a sting, wouldn't you want it to look legit as possible? ICE is part of DHS so it makes sense they would add it to their own list if the goal was to catch people attempting to exploit the program. If a student enrolled in this institution, it wouldn't have taken long for them to realize this was a sham and transfer out if they were truly seeking education. I believe it wasn't entrapment because ICE only set up the fake university, they didn't actually recruit people to it. That was other "students/recruiters" who were enrolled and helping others out to join (hence the indictments of the 8 recruiters). Also in there was this in the article: >Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for ICE in Detroit, told local news station WXYZ that the students had entered the United States legally on F-1 visas after being accepted to legitimate schools and had later transferred to the University of Farmington.

If they were accepted to legit schools and then transferred to this one it seems likely that they weren't seeking education, but a means to stay here, which would be in violation of the visa.


> why this is not entrapment

because they are charging the recruiters too! Hahaha this is hysterically bad, so because government agents werent the ones getting people to do what they wouldnt have otherwise done

And because deportation isnt a criminal charge

All necessary elements for an entrapment defense

But The recruiters might have a defense and do face criminal charges


> And because deportation isnt a criminal charge

but isn't it entrapment of the recruiters?

I don't know, it may be legal but it's not ethical.


Yes there is a possible argument


> so because government agents werent the ones getting people to do what they wouldnt have otherwise done

If the recruiters were acting on the government agents' instructions, it still counts as entrapment.


Presumably they're not being charged with attending a phony university. They weren't "entraped" to be here without a visa.


How is the university phony if it's certified by the federal government as legit?

Presumably there is a process that needs to be followed by the DHS before a school is certified as legit.

They transferred their valid visas from a legit university to this "phony" university. How can that result in 'no visa' if the university is certified by the govt as eligible to grant visas to international students?


Enrolling in the school ostensibly isn't illegal per se.


Can there be civil suits against the government for time and money wasted in enrolling into fake universities that are fraudulently certified as legit?

I am struggling to find a good analogy here. Like a fake cop that is certified as legit by the police department? Wouldn't that make him a real cop as far as the law is concerned? How is this a fake univ if it's certified as legit by ICE?


Complaining about the executive branch enforcing the law is like complaining to an umpire about the rules of baseball. Want to change the law? That's what legislators are for! The laws in question were put in place long before the current administration took the executive seat.


That's not how our system works for better or worse. The executive branch has co-opted much of congress's authority over the years, so we now have a system where the executive branch is also a legislative branch.

You can complain about the long term problem, and the short term problem at the same time.


Executive branch or legislative branch, not a huge difference, they both serve at the will of those who put up the money to get them elected. Elections are where the people decide which capitalists get to use the government to advance their financial interests. That is the long-term problem.


The best way to change a law that reasonable people disagree with, is to enforce it effectively.


[flagged]


What I'm saying is that while I don't necessarily agree with the full extent of the policy, I recognize that reasonable people can disagree with it as a whole, and that enforcing it is the best way to demonstrate what's wrong with the policy, rather than demonstrating what's wrong with the enforcement (the effect of selective enforcement).


It is a tempting premise: if something is wrong, taking it to its full extent will demonstrate just how wrong it is, causing everyone to unite in striking it down. Justice wins in the end!

It is too optimistic to think that being right is enough to effect change. I think that framing the discussion this way will allow people who want to keep the status quo to use survivorship as a basis for legitimacy. When idyllic justice fails and the change doesn't happen, that becomes proof that the status quo was correct all along.


Executive branch makes decisions about priorities all the time. They certainly don't enforce all the laws all the time with the same effort.

It makes sense to complain, criticise or defend those decisions.


The executive's ability to be flexible with the law is supposed to be used expeditiously when it's urgent. For example, it would be appropriate to suspend ICE operations temporarily during a national emergency. The executive isn't supposed to just unilaterally decide that some law is "too mean" and then stop enforcing that law indefinitely. It's shocking that people so hostile to the executive body seem to wish for the executive body to gain implicit legislative power!


>It's shocking that people so hostile to the executive body seem to wish for the executive body to gain implicit legislative power!

The executive body already has implicit legislative power. There are 2 arguments. How they use that power, and whether they should have it in the first place.

You can have both of those arguments simultaneously.


GP said that the executive does exercise such discretion all the time, which is true. Talking about how it should use that discretion judiciously (not expeditiously BTW) is a non sequitur.


That shocking thing is part of justice system in USA, explicitely. (In contrast, in Germany cops+prosecutors are indeed legaly obligated to prosecure all crimes they know of, but in USA they don't. )

"We won't prosecute this or that crime" is even sometimes announced.


This isn't about the fact that they're enforcing the law. It's about how. Even if I loved the way the law is, I'd still object to enforcing it in a way that takes resources away from catching serious criminals and uses them instead to go after people who pose little to no threat.


According to the article, the university wasn't really teaching classes and it didn't have a real campus: the resources used for this sting are not that high.

Speculating here, but what if the 8 recruiters who were charged are people who make a business out of finding people with expiring visas, and counseling them about ways to stay in the country, while charging them a fee? "Hey, I heard you have visa troubles. You give me $1,000 plus expenses, and I make those visa troubles disappear." If it's something like that, then heck yeah resources should be devoted to catching those guys!


> the resources used for this sting are not that high.

How would you like to pay for it out of your own pocket then? Even if it cost no more than several ICE agents' time, it's still a much more significant waste than you're trying to portray. Let's try to keep this factual, OK?

The fact that you say "those guys" is telling. The focus should be on efficiency and effectiveness relative to ICE's mission, not on making sure that "we're hurting the right people" (as the unintentionally-honest meme goes).


When I said "those guys", that was clearly referring to hypothetical criminals in the immediately preceding three sentences. Has HN really sunk to the level now where we attack people for uttering forbidden noun-phrases like "those guys", without even examining the context in which they're uttered?

>hurting the right people

No-one wants to hurt people just for fun. I speculated about a situation in which the charged recruiters would unambiguously be harming society and it would be imperative for the state to protect society from them. I don't know if that situation is what's really going on, there isn't enough info. The point is it's not necessarily a case of Disney-villain ICE agents pulling wings off of flies for giggles (which is how a lot of commenters are treating it).

>How would you like to pay for it out of your own pocket then?

I do, it's called taxes, and I'm fine with that.


Yeah, the alt-righters have gotten pretty good at the whole "I'm being unfairly attacked for saying something completely innocent" after they say something that supports that agenda. Yawn


The cruelty is the point.


> The cruelty is the point.

No, it isn't. If you took any time to talk to any of the tremendous number of reasonable, empathic people working at ICE, you could not say that with a straight face.

The mandate of ICE is to enforce immigration and customs laws, not to "be cruel to foreigners" or some such. Making a dehumanizing moral caricature of people you disagree with is not helpful to anyone who needs help.


Cruelty is the point. ICE is not on the right side of history.

ICE impersonates the LAPD, making their jobs more difficult. The LAPD has requested they stop doing this.

Homeland wants to be separated from ICE because ICE is hurting the broader org’s reputation and making it harder to keep the country safe.

ICE is so far off the rails, it is indefensible.

Please link me to the tremendous number of reasonable, empathic people working at ICE who are speaking out against the injustices committed by their organization. I'll wait.


Nice strawman, barely anyone is accusing the rank and file of ICE of cruelty, there might be a few bad apples here and there though. But the cruelty is coming from higher up political appointees like Stephen Miller.

Which results in ridiculous bullshit like this:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2018/07/11/new-u...

Can you tell me how the above situation is not cruel?


> https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2018/07/11/new-u...

USCIS is not ICE. When USCIS refers people to ICE (the topic of this article), ICE has their own procedures which have more to do with carrying out immigration and customs law than "cruelty".


The orders are coming from the same people on top. It's a distinction without a difference at this point.


Just enforcing the law doesn't make their actions not cruel. When the political heads of those agencies in charge of the agencies are talking about "deterrence", "self deportation", or enforcing the law in the most maximalist way (e.g.: family separation). Their mandate is to enforce those laws but they're going about it in a way designed to hurt.

nahzgah 19 days ago [flagged]

>A new agency with ICE's original charter would be a reasonable thing to have, but there's no way to get that under the current structure.

One of the strong points of the current president is kicking out illegals, so it could be argued that abolishing the ICE would be simply antidemocratic.


Illegals? You mean undocumented residents?

Personally I don’t think the president has any strong points other than being a racist, misogenoist, pathological liar, and narcissist.


Few of them are undocumented. There’s plenty of documentation on them - in schools, emergency rooms, police reports. As you well know, your term “undocumented” is designed to trivialize the border and deprecate the very concept of American citizenship.

At a minimum, refer to them as unauthorized immigrants, since that is the distinguishing factor from a public policy perspective.


Labeling people as illegals is merely meant to dehumanize them. I wasn’t trivializing the border and so your response is no more than a straw man.

zeveb 19 days ago [flagged]

> Labeling people as illegals is merely meant to dehumanize them.

No more than labelling those who commit crimes as criminals.

Subjects of foreign states — i.e. aliens — who are present illegally are illegal aliens. That's what they are (in addition, of course, to being human beings, with parents and rights and hopes and dreams and all the rest).

Labelling them 'undocumented immigrants' is a bit too cute, since many of them do retain the identifying documentation issued by their states. It's also begging the question of whether they should be immigrating at all.

For myself, I philosophically tend towards completely open borders, but I do wonder about the practical implications, and I dislike the blatant dishonesty & appeals to emotion common on both sides of the issue.

nahzgah 19 days ago [flagged]

No it's not. They are humans who are breaking the law and who shouldn't be in the US. Nobody is saying they are not humans. Just that they don't get to stay in the US without following the process.


This is a political talking point to scare poor and uneducated white people. It’s why we are willing to penalize folks who were brought to this country as children and use this future for political gains.


"Undocumented resident" is an even worse euphemism - it's not like these are people who simply lost their papers, or people who were entitled to those papers and just forgot them.

These are people who are inside the US in violation of immigration law.


I don’t think it’s a worse euphemism. The people who I see angry about “illegals” are the same ones who think blacks are all criminals and it would be great if we could to to the good old days when blacks were segregated, women didn’t have the right to vote, and white men ruled supreme.


Now who’s dehumanizing people?


If you're committing visa fraud you're no longer undocumented and you are indeed there illegally.


If your visa expires, wouldn't that mean that you're here without valid documentation, ie, undocumented? You were formerly documented, and you have been undocumented.


> A new agency with ICE's original charter would be a reasonable thing to have, but there's no way to get that under the current structure.

It seems to me that you can run ICE without necessarily having figures like Joe Arpaio or Donald Trump as ideological sponsors while accomplishing the same job.

I've read on a few occasions that immigration was even more strictly enforced under Obama's administration, but it was done without xenophobic rhetoric, which seems ideal.


> ...but it was done without xenophobic rhetoric, which seems ideal.

To anyone who is listening rather than assuming, it seems that the Trump administration has done it without xenophobic rhetoric as well.


Terrible headline!

Students knew that the scheme was illegal “and that discretion should be used when discussing the program with others,” prosecutors wrote in their indictment.

This was not a fake university at all. This was a fake fake university.

The former would be offensive. The latter is a brilliant sting operation I 100% endorse.


From the description it sounds like entrapment. Which is why I can't believe it and why I think there is something missing...


Notice they didn't charge the 600 students who enrolled. They charged only 8 of those students who recruited lots of other students. That's kinda shady but it's probably a step removed from entrapment. The article doesn't have anything from the defense's side though.


It also seems like an awful lot of time and money to get 8 indictments.


But they did arrest and are bringing deportation proceedings against “scores of students”.


Oh I did miss that. That sounds bad considering what was reported last time they did this. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/06/nyregion/students-at-fake...


The "they" in that article is the Obama administration.


So? It's the same agency. I don't know that it changed that much since 2015 when this "new" sting started.


Yeah, that helps a lot. Still, while the students who enrolled knew it was a fraud, the article didn't mention how many wasted time and money (and aspiration) applying.

Also, prosecutors said that this is proof that the student visa program could be abused. That's not clear at all from this case. We know at least one of the fake school's neighbors knew something was wrong. We don't know how likely this was to have been discovered by authorities routinely, or how many applicants reported the fraud. This is going to put extra pressure on the student visa program for no good reason.


This is confusing.

> eight people who allegedly worked as “recruiters” for the school and collectively helped at least 600 students to remain in the country under false pretenses now face federal conspiracy charges

If this was a fake university set up by ICE, why are its employees being charged with conspiracy? (The Detroit News article clarifies that the recruiters did not know it was a fake university)

And for that matter, how is this whole thing not crystal-clear entrapment, at least for the "recruiter" employees, if not for the "students" themselves? The Detroit News article, again, quotes a law professor / prosecutor as saying "it's not entrapment":

> “The government can put out the bait, but it’s up to the defendants to fall for it.”

...but isn't "putting out the bait" what entrapment is? (That's a sincere, not rhetorical question, I'm not a lawyer and don't play one on TV)


It's not entrapment if the crime (being in the country illegally) was already committed.


No! The crime is not being in the country illegally. The crime is knowingly enrolling in a fake university and claiming student visa status while taking no course work.

A sting operation (fake drug buy) is not entrapment. If you walk up to someone and ask them if they want to buy drugs and they do it’s not entrapment. If you threaten them to buy your drugs or pretend you are selling them legal drugs and then hand them something illegal and arrest them, that is entrapment.


It's both.


But (assuming the recruiters weren't in on it), the students could be under the impression they were allowed to stay. And so not have done anything to prevent them being in the country illegally.


>Students knew that the scheme was illegal, "and that discretion should be used when discussing the program with others,” prosecutors wrote in their indictment, which was filed Jan. 15 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Not sure if this is actually true but that's what it says in the article.


Ah, I missed that detail; thank you.


AFAIK, genuine entrapment involves directly appealing to suspects to convince them to commit a crime which they would not otherwise have committed. In this case, the those enrolling had clearly intended to misrepresent their visa status, and the recruiters clearly intended to help them with that.

As for the "recruiters", I think they mean to say that these were independent people who offered their services and are alleged to have knowingly aided the commission of the unlawful acts (i.e. conspiracy) involved in aiding the misrepresentation of the visa status of those attempting to enroll.


> directly appealing to suspects to convince them to commit a crime which they would not otherwise have committed

Hiring recruiters for a fake university would seem to fit this definition nicely. ("Independent people who offered their services" is a funny way of describing "people who applied for and accepted jobs".)

I'm also not clear on how, absent specific evidence, it's possible to draw the "which they would not otherwise have committed" line for the students -- did they intend to misrepresent their visa status so applied to this fake university? Or did the recruiter or university encourage the students to apply and therefore misrepresent their visa status?

(That said I'm very prepared to accept that there is evidence to support criminal intent on both the recruiters' and students' part which is just absent from the news articles; it just feels odd to assume it automatically.)


And, belatedly, I see

>eight people in eight states who allegedly were students at the school and recruited additional students to enroll

...so not employees as such (presumably the "school" was offering them some financial incentive to do the recruiting work, but if they were students who knew there weren't actual classes etc that makes their intent much clearer.)

I grant myself a failing grade for reading comprehension today ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Interesting that the article explains this is the same sort of sting that was run in NJ under Obama.

Reminds me of those stories of police departments sending 'you won the lottery' announcements to local criminals who had to appear to collect their prize in person...whereupon they were promptly arrested.


It's fun to go on LinkedIn and look for "University of Northern New Jersey". There are a lot more people on there then you might think.

I find it amusing; I never finished my degree either but I try and be at least up-front about it.


Sorry, I'm a little confused here on the 8 recruiters.

>The federal indictments name eight people in eight states who allegedly worked as recruiters for the school. All have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit. They face a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

So ICE employed recruiters, and is now prosecuting them for doing what they were told? A law enforcement agency hired people, required them to break the law (presumably under threat of dismissal), and then intends to jail them for it?


>So ICE employed recruiters

The article looks to have made it sound like ICE employed them, but I don't believe that is the case. It seems more likely they (the recruiters) were acting independently getting international students to transfer to the fake school knowing it wasn't a legit school (hence the "pay to stay" statement) and helping them with that process while unaware it was actually setup by ICE.


This makes perfect sense if the recruiters knew they were running a fake university.

If a drug dealer hires henchmen to sell their drugs, and under threat of dismissal tells them to move a certain amount of product, the henchmen are still guilty of a crime.

If the kingpin is actually the FBI, everyone working for them is still going to jail.


Except selling drugs is illegal, recruiting students isn't.

Keep in mind their employer was in "The Department of Homeland Security’s list of certified schools".

Their work was only illegal because their employer turned out to be "corrupt". And presumably the cover was strong enough that doing your due diligence on your new employer wouldn't raise any red flags.

As an employee is it my responsibility to ensure that my day-to-day work hasn't been made illegal due to my employer's actions!?


They were not recruiting students. They were recruiting student visa holders to a fake university with the intent to conspire with the visa holder to defraud DHS (or whoever) and that is illegal.

Per TFA the recruiters were themselves fake “students” who spread the word about the fake university and prepared fake transcripts for their recruits to fraudulently keep their student visas while not actually taking any coursework.

The narrative you are seeing is not what actually happened. IMO it’s WaPo’s fault as the article is very badly written to portray the student visa holders as victims in this.


Where do you see that? I only see references to 'alleged "recruiters"'.

Unless outline is skipping part of TFA?

But in that case, "recruiter" is an incredibly poor choice of word by the author.


The federal indictments name eight people in eight states who allegedly were students at the school and recruited additional students to enroll. All have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit. They face a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The eight recruiters allegedly helped create fraudulent records, including transcripts, that students could give to immigration authorities.


>The federal indictments name eight people in eight states who allegedly worked as recruiters for the school. All have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit. They face a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Weird, they must have edited it


Days long since past I guess, when we would get a redline or an editor’s note for ninja edits like that!


These set-up stings always throw me off a little bit. It's like sure these people are breaking the law, that's clearly wrong. But shouldn't we be fixing the system that isn't good enough to catch fake transcripts and fake schools being submitted, or were any visa applications for this school accepted for the sake of letting ICE catch a few fake students.


That's basically what they did here since "the federal indictments name eight people in eight states who allegedly were students at the school and recruited additional students to enroll." Those were the people who were allegedly helping these people fake the transcripts to commit this fraud.


I am quite disappointed that they didn't name the place Winston University: https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/winston-univer...


How is this not entrapment? Yes, the students knowingly signed up for a fake university and used it for visa application, but the fake university only existed because the government set it up.

If people applying for student visas for fake universities is a real problem, why not just compare their applications with a list of real universities?

Especially putting the fake uni on DHS’s list of certified schools. Is there a problem of fake unis getting on DHS's list? Otherwise the crime they committed (applying for a visa for a fake university certified by the DHS) would have been literally impossible if DHS/ICE didn't intentionally certify a fake uni.


If the goal of your organization is "to investigate illegal movement of people and goods" (on ICE's website), I would think this would be a safe and effective way to do it.



Trying to be cute, get press and promoted? ICE and everyone knows damn well where "illegals" are working. No need to spend money on such elaborate ruses to find them.


Is entrapment not illegal in the US?


The law makes a clear distinction between entrapment and opportunity.

Setting up a "honeypot" is not entrapment.

That's not to say that this was anything other than a waste of time and resources, and a textbook example of what happens when a law enforcement agency is unleashed from regulation.


Thanks for the explanation, I hadn't thought about that difference, makes sense.


[flagged]


Please do not post political flamebait or do political flamewar on HN. We don't want this here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


From the article:

> As the News noted, the undercover investigation seems to have ramped up one month after President Trump took office. While the fake university was set up in 2015, it wasn’t until February 2017 that HSI agents began posing as university officials, the indictment said. The undercover operation, nicknamed “Paper Chase,” continued until earlier this month.

The operation was underway in 2015. Whatever else might be said about this, this particular project wasn't started under Trump.

basic1 19 days ago [flagged]

This whole discussion reeks of California.


We've banned this account for posting unsubstantive comments and breaking the site guidelines.

If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

rinchik 19 days ago [flagged]

You realize that operation was "under Obama", right? This is fascinating how gullible a lot of people are, HN readers are no exception. Extreme far-left brainwashing just remarkable


Please don't post ideological or political flamebait to HN. It worsens discussion and leads to worse still. This is what we're hoping to avoid on this site.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Did I say the operation was under Trump?


Paywall warning.


This makes no sense. If any of the students who enrolled there were illegal immigrants, they should be granted green cards instantly. These are the people who want to learn, work, and better themselves: a clear net benefit to society.

[I'm purposefully avoiding the topic of ICE, ethics, and a number of other things here: just wanted to make one point]


Apparently the university had no real classes or campus, so any students who continued to use it to maintain their visa after discovering as much, are clearly not "people who want to learn, work, and better themselves".




Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: