By Uma Sudhir
No arguments, it is an unequal world. Two unrelated events. Here was the footage of students from India forced to wear a radio frequency tag, a monitoring badge on their leg after being interrogated by the US authorities, because they should not slip away. Even as I was filing the report, the US was calling for immediate release of its diplomat “unlawfully detained” by Pakistani authorities following a shooting incident.
The first case was of Indian students who had enrolled at a US University that had been raided and shut less than a week ago after being charged with a massive immigration fraud. The second was of a US diplomat who had shot dead two young men and caused the death of a third man in a hit-and-run in Lahore. The same time, President Obama was talking about how he did not want human rights to be violated in Egypt. You can call it an irony. Or dismiss it as a mere coincidence.
Days after hundreds of Indian students faced the prospect of being deported, because the University was accused of fraud, the Indian government barely spoke up, saying no one had approached them for help. Barely surprising, considering students and their families who have invested financially, emotionally, socially and even academically to make their American dream come true, were in all likelihood so terror-stricken by the prospect of being penalised and humiliated, they were hoping their silence would make the nightmare go away. Or were hoping not to endanger future prospects.
It was only after 35 students approached the Consul General Sushmita Gongulee Thomas on Thursday in San Francisco that a statement was issued saying a factual report had been sought and those who had not violated US law should not be unfairly punished.
“Even those who are on the wrong side of the law, aren’t they innocent till proven guilty? Isn’t it the sociopolitical responsibility of the Indian government to give them that fair chance? Shouldn’t we making at least that decibel of noise and speaking up on behalf of an Indian citizen who is caught in such circumstances in a foreign country, at his wits’ end, not knowing who to talk to and get help,” questions human rights activist L Ravichander.
Hours after the report was telecast on NDTV, showing video footage from Tri-Valley university campus suggesting Indian students were being radio-tagged as part of electronic surveillance by US immigration authorities, the Ministry of External Affairs summoned the US deputy chief of mission.
“We have conveyed to the US authorities that the students, most of who are victims themselves, must be treated fairly and reasonably, and that the use of monitors on a group of students, who were detained and later released with monitors in accordance with US laws, is unwarranted and should be removed.”
Only after that the US authorities confirmed that 18 students were given notices to appear (NTA) by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and had been required to wear monitoring anklets.
”To tag people like this would be a very serious violation of human rights for which one could approach an international authority or courts to get justice. Would they do it to their own citizens?” asks Ravichander.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), responsible for enforcing the nation’s immigration and customs laws, says that if ICE encounters individuals during the course of an investigation who are found to be in violation of their immigration status, the agency will take follow-up action consistent with the agency’s enforcement priorities.
* The complaint filed by ICE indicated that Tri-Valley reported that almost half (about 700) of the Indian students lived in a single apartment. That was found to be untrue. Investigators believe TVU reported that most of its students lived at the apartment to conceal they don’t live in the state.
* Since the school only had approval for 30 students and there were no classes at the school, ICE believes that most of the students enrolled simply to get work documents. Their complaint states students were paid for referring other students.
* ICE has suggested that there were also many H1B visa holders, who had been fired/laid off, attending the school.
* Tri-Valley obtained permission from DHS to issue I-20s in early 2009. They had 11 students in May 2009, 79 by September 2009, 447 by January 2010, 939 by May 2010, and 1550 by September 2010. There were 969 additional students waiting to start Spring Quarter.
India’s Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi maintains that the fraud was done by the US University, not the students. “We requested the state department to take a lenient view because all the students are innocent.” This is at 180 degrees variance from what media reports seemed to suggest or at least project in the US.
Do watch this news clip from Fox News :
The family of a young man who had a B.Tech degree in India and borrowed upto six lakh rupees to go Tri-Valley University to get a M.S. degree in computers is too scared to imagine how they will repay the amount. “Will my son be blacklisted as a criminal?” asks the concerned father. “My life’s savings went towards making a future for my son, what are we going to do now?”
The MEA says the students should be given ample opportunity to clarify their position and present their case and those who wish to return to India should be allowed to do so voluntarily. To me, a petition signed by a girl-student of Tri-Valley University and submitted to the US Department of Homeland Security and ICE, sounded most heart-rending.
The students claim they believed this was a bona fide and legitimate university as it was registered with the official Student and Exchange Visitor Information System database and was SEVP-certified.
“We respectfully plead with you not to penalise us or our families and bring shame to our entire families and the village/towns we come from, by deporting (removing) us from the US and causing us loss of name, reputation, money, resulting in devastation to us and to our families and crashing of all our dreams.”
We can’t blame anyone else for making our youngsters believe the US is the ultimate dream destination. We need a wakeup call.