The federal government has arrested the ringleaders of four Los Angeles schools that ran “pay-to-stay” scams, whereby student-visa holders managed to stay in the U.S. without ever attending classes. The schools collected $6 million per year in tuition payments from the students, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Former Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee staffers tell NR that this is more evidence that the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency is trying to manage a program they do not understand. “The oversight work that’s been done looking at [the Student Exchange and Visitor Program], it shows that…DHS and ICE aren’t really managing it effectively,” says one former committee staffer.
When DHS investigators conducted a surprise check at the American College of Forensic Studies, they found one, single student in one, single religion class, despite the school’s claims that 300 foreign students were enrolled at the school, according to the Times. At Prodee University, investigators found just three foreign students in one English class, despite the more than 900 foreign students who were enrolled at the school.
In his final DHS oversight report earlier this year, former Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn detailed the extensive problems with the Student Exchange and Visitor Program. Coburn noted that if responsibility for overseeing the SEVP program was distributed evenly among the 200 ICE agents assigned to the program, then each agent would be responsible for monitoring approximately 6,500 students.
This overwhelming workload is especially concerning because “approximately 36 convicted terrorists came to the country using various forms of student visas,” according to the report. In 2012, Coburn’s report found, a Saudi student visa holder was arrested and convicted after “buying chemicals online and attempting to use a WMD” in the state of Texas. Also in 2012, a student visa holder from Bangladesh was arrested for plotting to destroy the Federal Reserve Building in New York City.
Coburn’s report drew a rather damning conclusion about ICE’s mismanagement of the SEVP program: “ICE does not have strong oversight and accountability of this program, [and] there is a risk that it could be exploited by foreign adversaries seeking entry into the United States to do harm, including terrorism, espionage, or engaging in other illegal activities, particularly given the imbalance between the program’s scope and the resources that are dedicated to overseeing it.”
Another problem with the program identified by Coburn’s report is that unlike other federal education programs, the SEVP does not require the participating schools to be accredited or licensed. In the case of the four schools exposed in Southern California earlier this week, the scammers faked school transcripts and school transfer records. The foreign students then paid up to $1,800 for six months tuition, so that they would appear to be enrolled and could stay in the U.S. The findings produced by the 4-year investigation by Homeland Security Investigators are promising, but also suggest much work is left to be done.