“Pay to stay” scheme reveals the troubling evolution of immigration law enforcement

Justus Ross/HIGHLANDER

The Department of Homeland Security recently made public one of their latest sting operations designed to crack down on fraudulent student visas and instigators of illegal immigration: the University of Farmington. The Michigan-based fake university was set up by Homeland Security Investigations, a body within the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and students who enrolled in the university were fully aware that the University of Farmington was not a formal college. Instead of having a curriculum, professors and the typical factors that make up a college environment, the “college” operated by allowing foreigners to pay a certain amount of money to uphold a false student status. Recruiters for the phony university garnered up to $250,000 through the payments of at least 600 people.

Although there have been questionable ways in the methods ICE uses to find and arrest illegal immigrants, deportation of the students isn’t an unreasonable penalty when looking at this case specifically. When extending the scope of the way ICE operates beyond this case, however, there does seem to be a fault in the ethical standards the agency holds its workers to. Yet in spite of society’s tendency to villainize ICE and perceive them as a symbol of Trump’s rhetoric towards illegal immigration, the agency still serves an essential role in keeping our country secure, though it wouldn’t be a far-fetched idea to suggest that reformation of the agency is needed if it wishes to gain back trust of the American people.

Matthew Schneider, a U.S. attorney for the eastern region of Michigan, stated it best when he said in a news release, “We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended… visa program can also be exploited and abused.” Some have taken to social media to express outrage at such an operation, calling it entrapment, and immigration lawyers have voiced disapproval for such a “misleading” operation. However, the fact remains that those who signed up for this scheme knew they were partaking in an illegal pathway to stay in the U.S. Several on social media who decried this sting were most likely under the misconception that the college set up by ICE operated as any other educational institution in the U.S. does, when that was not the case at all.

Aside from this story, ICE has faced mounting criticism in recent years for the questionable way the agency carries out its plans to capture and detain illegal immigrants. The most prominent story that gave momentum to the “abolish ICE” movement was the “zero-tolerance” policy that resulted in families getting separated at the border. Though it was Customs and Border Protection, a sister agency of ICE, actually separating the families, ICE director Thomas Homan still announced enforcement of the zero-tolerance policy, and reports surfaced of ICE agents trying to coerce families to deportation. In addition to this policy that was later repealed after public pressure, the mother of a child who died in ICE custody made a legal complaint against the U.S. government, and there has been a surge in arrests made by ICE ever since Trump took office.

No matter what one’s view on illegal immigration is, it’s hard to deny that there’s a moral standard that needs to be upheld when enforcing the law, especially from an agency that represents the U.S. government. The operation of the fake university wasn’t a blatant breach of ethics given that it simply carried out its task of indicting parties responsible for trying to scam the government and smuggle people into the country. This, however, does not take away from how there are other instances in which ICE should be held to a higher standard, depicted in their lackluster attempts to reunite families after the ending of the zero-tolerance policy.

Many have also connected the growth in ICE’s prominence to President Trump’s rhetoric surrounding illegal immigration. He hasn’t shied away from voicing his opinion on wanting to deport all illegal immigrants in this country, whether it be through speeches or through policy such as his attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. When coupling Trump’s stance towards illegal immigration with the growing trend of ICE arrests being made, this has led to the abolishment of ICE to become an increasingly Democratic stance, with 43 percent of Democrats supporting abolishment of ICE.

Often, in the polarizing climate of today’s politics, ICE has seemingly become a scapegoat for those who simply oppose Trump. After all, there wasn’t as much of a public hostility towards ICE when Obama was in office and deported a record amount of people. Still, there are differences in the way Trump and Obama operated around illegal immigration. Perhaps Trump and ICE are more under fire for policy aimed at detaining and deporting illegal immigrants because previous administrations had never enacted policy mandating the separation of families. While it still stands that ICE needs to enforce the law in a more humane way, constantly berating Trump for directing ICE to carry out any type of operation related to capturing illegal immigrants wouldn’t be fair. It’s easy to look at scenarios like the fake university and think such a mission to be malicious and in favor of Trump’s preference to rid the country of all illegal immigrants. However, the University of Farmington scheme was started under the Obama administration and was not the only fake university set up to entrap illegal immigrants in the Obama era.

Protestors on the streets aren’t the only ones calling for an end to ICE, as politicians have joined in on the rallying cry as well. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez is most well-known for having the abolishment of ICE on her political agenda, amongst other key Democrat Senate and House members. However, to ask for the complete abolishment of such an agency would be a rather faulty decision. ICE was created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and its primary functions encompass a multitude of responsibilities: intelligence gathering, investigation of immigration-related crime and preventing sex and drug trafficking, just to name a few. A more rational approach would be to break down the responsibilities of ICE into more manageable offices. A Homeland Security secretary has claimed that ICE is struggling to balance all of its tasks given how many duties they have. Trying to banish the body altogether would be doing a disservice to the security of the American people. Given how this agency is not too old, however, reforms aren’t a bad solution to begin with.

There are varying standards on what it means to properly protect the American people, but it should be agreed upon that trying to put an end to transnational crime, which is a responsibility of ICE, is a useful mechanism. The problems that revolve around the way ICE operates as a law-enforcement body lead us down a rabbit hole into just how faulty our entire immigration system is. However, the solution isn’t to completely rid ourselves of one of the bodies responsible for overseeing the safety of our country.

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