Students who enrolled in fake school ICE used in sting can sue, judges rule


In 2018, Teja Ravi paid $12,500 to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Farmington, which he thought was an accredited school in Michigan, he said in court documents.

But Farmington, it turned out, was fake. The Department of Homeland Security had set it up to ensnare foreign nationals who had come to the United States on student visas – a sting operation federal prosecutors revealed in 2019, the year after Ravi enrolled.

Last week, a federal appeals court ruling created an opening for Ravi and other students to sue the government after receiving no classes or other education in exchange for the tuition they paid to Farmington. The ruling reverses a 2022 dismissal of a class-action lawsuit Ravi filed, accusing the federal government of breach of contract.

Anna Nathanson, an attorney who represents Ravi, said in a statement that the appeals decision gives the students who were “unjustly targeted” an opportunity “to have their day in court.”

DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on the decision.

Ravi was one of hundreds who enrolled at Farmington, which was set up in 2015, but did not actually have any classes or professors and was instead being run by undercover ICE agents.

When he applied to Farmington in 2018, Ravi, a citizen of India, was already enrolled at a California university under a five-year student visa, according to his 2020 class-action complaint. He was interested in the information technology master’s program that Farmington advertised, which “he hoped would make him a more attractive candidate to prospective employers,” the complaint states.

But after enrolling and paying $12,500 in tuition, Ravi did not receive information about classes, even after contacting people he believed were Farmington administrators, according to the lawsuit.

Ravi also went on the university’s website to check its accreditation, which was listed as valid, the complaint states, adding that Farmington “created what appeared to be a legitimate web presence.”

Farmington’s website featured photos of a modern campus, information about its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics program, and alerts about inclement weather for students, The Washington Post previously reported. It was also included on a DHS list of certified schools where international students could enroll.

“Ultimately, there was no reason for a student applying from abroad to know or have a suspicion that Farmington was a fake university,” the complaint states.

In January 2019, a federal indictment revealed that the fake university was an undercover ICE operation. Dozens of students who enrolled at Farmington were arrested on immigration violations. Eight people were also accused of working as recruiters for the school. Federal prosecutors said those people helped hundreds of students, who knew Farmington wasn’t real, enroll in the school so they could remain in the United States under the pretext of studying at an academic institution. All of those charged in the case pleaded guilty, Insider Higher Ed reported.

Ravi left the United States for India, according to the appeals panel ruling, and he was not arrested or charged. He later filed the class-action lawsuit, which was dismissed before the appellate judges reversed that decision last week.

The panel specified that its ruling was not about whether ICE was authorized to conduct its operation, but if the federal government had “engaged in the sale of services,” the judges wrote. They determined the students who paid to enroll at Farmington could sue the federal government for breach of contract and seek refunds for their tuition payments.

The June 25 ruling sends Ravi’s case back to trial court, according to his attorneys.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here