U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Creative Commons

A federal appeals court has ruled that students deceived by a fake university created by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to combat visa fraud can sue the government, according to court documents.

The decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit opens the door for Teja Ravi and other immigrant students to pursue legal action against the fictitious University of Farmington, which was widely promoted online as part of an undercover operation. The operation aimed to curb student visa fraud, yet the university offered no classes, curriculum, or faculty, as per court records.

NBC News reports that Ravi, who led the suit, was deceived when he applied to the fake university, claiming he never received a refund of his tuition fees. Ravi, an Indian citizen residing in Houston when he applied in 2018, filed a class-action lawsuit on his behalf and on behalf of other students, alleging breach of contract.

Ravi stated in the lawsuit that he paid $12,500 in tuition fees for what he believed was a legitimate higher education institution. He even received emails from individuals posing as university officials, lending an air of legitimacy. Two other students mentioned in the lawsuit paid tuition fees of $10,000 and $15,000, respectively.

According to a release last week by an attorney representing the plaintiffs, around 600 students were left without the money they paid in tuition to Farmington and also resulted in their "arbitrarily losing their visas,"

The decision comes after a judge in March dismissed Ravi's lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The appellate court overturned the judgment and revived the case, citing legal precedent to determine whether the Government, while performing sovereign functions such as criminal investigation and prosecution, engaged in conduct akin to that of private parties.

ICE ceased operations of the fake school in 2019, acknowledging it as a sting operation. Agency officials noted that the eight individuals involved in the investigation conspired to recruit individuals, which an ICE official described in a 2020 statement as "an illegal pay-to-stay scheme." They were convicted on charges of committing visa fraud and harboring illegal immigrants for profit.

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