Little-Known Colleges Make Millions Off Foreign Students
Early on a Friday morning, four college students stand shivering in the parking lot of an office complex in Sterling, Va. The building itself is unremarkable, red brick and dark glass, but security cameras are bolted to the walls, cement posts line the perimeter, and coils of concertina wire surround the trash bins. This is a branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The students arrived more than an hour early for their appointment. They haven’t slept or eaten in two days, passing time instead by obsessively organizing their documents and drinking cup after cup of strong black tea. Their eyelids are at half- mast, their hands shoved in jacket pockets. They are all Indian, all from the city of Hyderabad, and all possibly in deep trouble.
These students, like roughly 1,500 others from India, were enrolled at Tri-Valley University, a California institution that was raided by federal agents in January. The government seized property, threatened to deport students, and in legal filings called Tri-Valley a “sham university” that admitted and collected tuition from foreign students but didn’t require them to attend class. (The president of Tri-Valley, Susan Xiao-Ping Su, denies the charges.) Many students allegedly worked full-time, low-level retail jobs—in one case, at a 7-Eleven in New Jersey—that were passed off as career training so they could be employed while on student visas. The university listed 553 students as living in a single two-bedroom apartment near the college; in fact, students were spread out across the country, from Texas to Illinois to Maryland.
As the students move inside and await their interview, a deliveryman wheels in a hand truck stacked with nine boxes of .44-caliber ammunition. On a table nearby rests a brochure titled “Targeting Terrorists,” which features the famous image of Mohammed Atta breezing through airport security. When an agent emerges and asks who is going to be first, the four students stare at the carpet. “Come on,” the agent says, trying to break the tension. “No one is going to beat you with a rubber hose.”
The joke does not go over well.
The raid on Tri-Valley received limited attention in the United States, but it was and remains a big story in India, where newspapers and television shows portray U.S. officials as callous, and oversight of the student-visa program as incompetent. After weeks of bad publicity, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton felt compelled to assure Indian officials that the situation would be resolved fairly. Meanwhile, immigration officials have pointed to the shuttering of Tri-Valley as proof of their vigilance.