ICE May Deport Hundreds of Former Students of Sham College

Raj, forefront, is one of several hundred students who claim they were duped by former officials of Tri Valley University in Pleasanton, Calif., and now potentially face mass deportation from the U.S. The faces of the students behind Raj have been intentionally blurred at their request. (Sunita Sohrabji photo)

NEWARK, Calif. — As four former Tri Valley University (TVU) officials pleaded not guilty Oct. 11, to committing visa fraud, hundreds of the sham college’s former students have received notices from immigration officials which amount to the first step in deportation proceedings.

At a press conference here Oct. 16, at the offices of immigration attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla, several students said they had received a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) their applications for reinstatement of international student status.

“The American dream has become an American nightmare for us, and we still don’t know what is going on,” said MBA student Prem from Hyderabad. “This has suspended my whole life –I’ve been living half-packed for several months not knowing when I will have to leave the U.S.”

Many students said they had spent upwards of $20,000 to study in the U.S., mortgaging their families’ homes and possessions to attend TVU, which charged $7,300 per semester of study. Returning home now, before completing their degrees, would be disastrous for family finances, said the students, who largely remained anonymous for fear of their relatives learning of their dilemma.

Students at the press conference predicted that at least 500 TVU alumni had received a NOID within the past two weeks. In an earlier story, Virginia Kice, spokeswomen for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told India-West that 300 TVU students had already been administratively arrested and placed in immigration proceedings.

The TVU alumni — who are predominantly from South India – lost their student status when the sham college, based in Pleasanton, Calif., was raided Jan. 19 by U.s. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and subsequently shut down. Many of the university’s 1500 students enrolled in new universities and then filed an I-539 application to have their student status reinstated, but nevertheless received the denial letter.

The school, founded by Susan Xiao-Ping Su in 2008, has been accused by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security of being a front for illegal immigration and for providing students with documents, which allowed them to work in the country under fraudulent circumstances.

ICE, however, continued to list TVU on its Web site as an approved university for foreign students for three months after it raided the institution.

Moreover, ICE had been investigating TVU for more than a year before it raided the institution. Yet, TVU continued to be listed on ICE’s website as an approved college for international students, despite the pending investigation.

Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in San Francisco, said she was uncertain of how many NOIDs had gone out to former TVU students.

Students who have received NOIDs are essentially being told, “We’re thinking about denying you. We can’t see any proof that you qualify for an extension but we’re giving you a chance to respond,” she explained.

Students have 30 days from the date on their NOID letter to respond to USCIS. If they do not respond to the letter, their application for reinstatement of student status would automatically be denied, said Peddibhotla, who is representing many of the TVU students. The denial could come as early as two weeks after the deadline, she added.

If the student submits a response within 30 days, USCIS will consider the case again, said Peddibhotla.

“If there is a denial of the reinstatement application, students would then be considered unlawfully present in the U.S. At that point, they run the risk of receiving a notice to appear,” explained Peddibhotla, noting that this would be the first step in initiating deportation proceedings.

Among documents requested by the USCIS, the NOID asks students to submit evidence that they did not take more than one class online. However, students said they were unable to provide such proof since all of TVU’s classes were only offered online.

Students at the press conference said they were unaware that TVU only offered its classes online since the university’s website displayed a sprawling campus. Many noted that ICE had listed the school among its approved colleges for foreign students and therefore assumed that the agency had surveyed the school to meet its own requirements.

“When ICE doesn’t have its own proper infrastructure, how do you expect international students to figure out U.S. laws,” queried Kumar, who has a wife and two-year-old son in India. He said he had come to the U.S. to equip himself with the tools to provide a better life for his family.

Raj, also from Hyderabad, stated he was angry with the Indian government for essentially abandoning TVU students. “We are your responsibility, but what have you done for us,” he stated?

Raj also expressed anger at U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for refuting the statements she made in a February letter to former Ambassador Meera Shankar, promising to treat TVU students fairly. At press time, the State Department had not returned calls inquiring about developments in the TVU case.

USCIS has also asked students to provide a copy of their Spring 2011 ID card; however, TVU had been shut down by the time the spring term would have started.

All TVU students who attended the press conference denied they had been working in the U.S., and most said they had planned to return to India after completing their studies and practical training.

Fraud Charges

In related news, four former TVU staff members pleaded not guilty to several counts each of visa fraud, Oct. 11.

Vishal Dasa, Anji Reddy Dirisinala, Ramakrishna Reddy Karra and Tushar Tambe, all face a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for allegedly providing fake immigration documents to undercover ICE agents in exchange for tuition fees. A criminal complaint written by ICE agent Jason Mackey quotes Tambe admitting on Jan. 19 that TVU was in fact a sham university, that transcripts were being issued fraudulently and that he had never attended classes at TVU despite being enrolled there as an international student.

Mackey also cited a situation with Dasa where an undercover agent posed as an out-of-status student with a visa that had expired in 2002. Dasa allegedly offered to prepare documents for him and arrange work authorization for a tuition fee of $2,800.

The agent said he had only completed 10th grade, but Dasa reportedly entered him into the MBA program so that he could work. Dasa created the requisite I-20 as the agent waited, then took it to Su for signature. “Now you are legal,” stated Dasa, handing the agent the signed I-20.

The agent never attended classes at TVU, but was able to obtain an official transcript from the school, stated Mackey in his criminal complaint against the four, who have all posted bail and are due back in court Nov. 7.

Su was arrested at her home May 2, and charged with visa fraud, money laundering, harboring undocumented immigrants and lying to federal officials.

Su was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, but released later in the day after posting bail of $300,000. A 22-page indictment issued April 28 by a federal grand jury in Oakland, Calif., listed 33 counts against Su, including charges of laundering more than $3.2 million in fees from students.

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