Realizing when You Are the Victim of an Immigration Fraud
By Anish Vashistha
Los Angeles, CA
The United States government has recently filed a complaint in federal court against Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, California for operating a fraudulent academic institution. Hundreds of South-Asian foreign nationals who came to the United States on student visas to attend Tri-Valley University will soon be placed in removal proceedings to be deported from the United States.
The reason for such drastic measures against such a large group of students is the finding by the United States Immigration officials that Tri-Valley University is a “sham university.” Essentially, US Immigration officials have found that the university is not really instructing students pursuant to the requirements of the students’ visas but is instead simply collecting tuition money from the students and maintaining only an appearance of being an actual academic institution.
The fear for many within the university’s student body, roughly ninety-five percent of which is estimated to comprise of South-Asian foreign nationals, is the appearance that they are a part of this fraudulent scheme. It is this fear that will cause many of these students to return voluntarily to their home countries or, worse, to be deported to their home countries. However, simply because one attended the university does not mean that he/ she was complicit in the fraudulent scheme operated by the university. Indeed, it may be likely that these students believed that by attending Tri-Valley University they would have an opportunity to be educated and to obtain employment after graduation in the United States. Were it not for what these students realize now to be the operation of a “sham university” by Tri-Valley University, the students would have maintained lawful student status.
Nevertheless, the information regarding the closure and lawsuit against Tri-Valley University reveals that a few students have been interrogated, and the prospect of such interrogation has caused some students to flee the United States. What these students do not understand, however, is that assisting law-enforcement personnel in identifying and shutting down such fraudulent institutions that take advantage of young foreign students not only is one’s civic duty but also is a potential avenue for one to obtain permanent legal status in the United States.
Specifically, after finding that several foreign nationals in the United States not only are victims of various criminal and fraudulent schemes in the United States but also are too afraid to come forward to report their victimization, the United States Congress passed laws that provide legal status to such victims with the promise that they would be able to obtain lawful permanent residency and later United States citizenship. To benefit from these provisions, one must show that he/ she was a victim and that he/ she cooperated with law-enforcement personnel in the investigation of the activity or in the prosecution of the perpetrators. These victim-based nonimmigrant categories also can waive almost all grounds of removability including prior deportation, fraud by the applicant, and unlawful entry.
However, for individuals such as the students of Tri-Valley University, the first step is acknowledging that they are victims and not criminals. This step is usually the most difficult because of certain cultural, familial, and social stigmas that some believe would apply to them were they to make such an acknowledgment. Fortunately, one of the additional benefits of these victim-based categories is the special confidentiality rules to which United States Immigration officials must adhere to when adjudicating a victim-based application. Once this initial hurdle is overcome, the next step is obtaining the services of an immigration attorney skilled in victim-based avenues of immigration relief. The author is a graduate from Georgetown University Law Center and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He has helped several Pakistani nationals obtain or maintain legal status in the United States. He may be contacted toll-free at 1 (866) 433-7016)