On April 5th 2016, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) closed down a school known as the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ). UNNJ was set up by the government as a sting operation to “trap” both brokers and foreign students on possible visa fraud. The operation had twenty-one brokers charged with several counts of visa fraud, harboring aliens among other charges. Today not only the brokers are affected but thousands of students who attended the school. While the sting operation, uprooted many alleged criminals, it left thousands of foreign students mainly from India and China in either a limbo or in fear of prosecution.
Since April 6th 2016, our law firm has been swamped with call all across the United States from people who are scared and desperate arising from the UNNJ situation. Many of the calls were from students who were actually in UNNJ but also from some who had actually transferred out of UNNJ prior to April 5th 2016. We have even set up a special update page (UNNJ Updates) on its website to update those affected. SPLG has also set consultations to guide or help those affected. In 2011, a quite similar situation happened in California with the Tri Valley University students (TVU). While TVU was not exactly similar UNNJ, it does bear some similarities. We have tried to identify and somehow categorized the individuals who are being affected as follows:
- Category I – Active participants in the fraud scheme and hence were arrested under criminal charges.
- Category II – Those who were solicited by brokers and placed in Immigration custody by the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ultimately in removal proceedings.
- Category III – Those who found the school on their own and spoke directly to the school. Many of them have just have had their SEVIS terminated and asked to leave. However some are being arrested and placed in removal proceedings.
- Category IV – Those who moved to other schools and are mostly having their current SEVIS record and student visa status terminated. Some of them are also being placed in removal proceedings after being questioned.
- Category V – Those who changed to other visas such as H1B visas or H4 visas have been heavily questioned by the ICE officers. But we do not have any report of arrest or removal proceedings issue at this point for this specific category.
- Category VI – All others.
So far the above are just few categories identified by SPLG as per the information obtained through investigations. However, they are not clearly defined at this point except it gives an idea where the investigation is going. Cases are individually being assessed and reliefs are being recommended as per specific case. Note that relief(s) in one case do(es) not mean that the same relief(s) are available to others. Therefore an individual consultation might actually be very helpful. We are actively looking into all the possibilities of relief(s) including reinstatement, U visas, possible asylums and other options to help in the defense.
For those who are affected, it is recommended to contact a lawyer to individually assess their cases and find a possible relief(s). Stakeholders are reminded to know their rights as immigrants. The right to remain silent and the right to counsel will attach if present in the United States. It is highly recommended not to speak to any authorities without the presence of an attorney. Anything that an individual says or discloses might be used against him/her. Therefore silence and requesting an attorney’s presence might make a big difference.
Stakeholders should actually update themselves of what is happening in order to assess what are the options available to them. We urge the authorities to be fair to all the students. We hope that a fair resolution will be adopted and that authorities will not imperil innocents who were just victims of circumstances.