Visit UniversityofFarmington.edu, and the first thing you’ll see is a picture of young people in a classroom setting. Below that, you’ll read,” “The University of Farmington is a nationally accredited business and STEM institution located in Metro Detroit. Our innovative curriculum combines traditional instruction and distance learning with [full-time] professional experiences. We offer flexible class schedules and a focus on students who do not want to interrupt their careers.” But despite looking very much like the website of many colleges around the country, the University of Farmington isn’t real. As a matter of fact, it’s part of a Department of Homeland Security sting operation meant to lure immigrant students.

Court filings unsealed Wednesday unveiled that undercover Homeland Security Investigation agents ran the school, which has existed since 2015.

As some question the ethics of setting up such an institution – the Department of Homeland Security included Farmington in a list of schools open for international students, according to The Washington Post – prosecutors have argued that “foreign citizens” used the school as “a ‘pay to play scheme.'” They said students knew the school wasn’t real and that they chose to enroll so that they could remain in the country under student visas. Reportedly, students would pay thousands of dollars, and in return, they’d have proof that they were full-time students.

According to Detroit News, several people have been charged, both dozens of students who were detained on immigration violations and could face deportation as well as eight people, charged with conspiracy, who helped recruit hundreds of immigrants for the fake school. The government alleges that altogether the eight received the equivalent of $250,000 to recruit students.

The government set up another fake university in the past. In 2016, dozens of people – recruiters and students at the fictitious University of Northern New Jersey – faced similar charges. While the government said students knew the school was fake, some later spoke out and told The New York Times that they were duped. While some say they tried to transfer schools, others said that the university sent them letters saying they could work instead of attend school. And because the Department of Homeland Security listed the site on its website, students felt the school was the real deal.


January 31, 2019: This headline has been updated. It originally said undocumented immigrants.