A bipartisan group of eminent lawmakers led by Indian American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi on Wednesday sought details of the sting operation carried out by the US Department of Homeland Security resulting in detention of at least 129 students from India.
In multiple raids last month, federal authorities arrested 130 students, including 129 Indians, enrolled as students in an alleged fraudulent university in Metro Detroit area and working across the country.
In a letter, the lawmakers urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ensure students detained following the recent ICE sting in Michigan were treated properly and are afforded all rights provided to them under law, including access to an attorney and release on bond for those eligible.
Written by Congressmen Thomas Souzzi, Rob Woodall and Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, in addition to Mr Krishnamoorthi, the letter also asks DHS and ICE to share full details and regular updates regarding the Indian students with the Embassy and Consulates of India, and to facilitate consular access for the detainees.
The lawmakers express "concerns surrounding the recent undercover operation" conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, in which HSI special agents operated a fake university -- University of Farmington -- designed to target recruiters and foreign students believed to be engaged in immigration fraud.
According to ICE, the investigation began in 2015, and HSI agents have been operating the fake school since 2017. As per the indictment unsealed last week, eight individuals served as recruiters for the school, enrolling hundreds of foreign nationals as students at the university.
These eight recruiters have been indicted for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
"The Indian-American community and Indian Consulate have expressed concerns regarding the treatment of these detained foreign nationals," the lawmakers said.
"We urge DHS and ICE to ensure the detained students are treated properly and afforded all rights provided to them under the law, including access to an attorney and release on bond, if they are eligible," the letter said.
"We further urge DHS and ICE to share full details and regular updates regarding the Indian students with the Embassy and Consulates of India, and to facilitate consular access for the detainees," the lawmakers said in the letter.
Noting that India is an important strategic partner and friend to the US, the lawmakers said in 2017, Indian students comprised 17.3 per cent of all international students in the country, numbering over 186,000.
As such, these students are a vital pillar of the people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, and they come to the US on grounds of merit, they asserted.
"In the spirit of continuing cooperation on educational exchange programs, which benefit both countries economically and culturally, we ask that you ensure the students involved in this case are treated fairly, humanely, and in accordance with due process," the Congressmen said.