The Tri-Valley University Case: The Latest but Not the Last Example of Immigration Fraud

Published on March 24th, 2011

by Joe Guzzardi
March 14, 2011

The case of California’s Tri-Valley University and the 1,555 students enrolled at the sham institution proves how easy it is to maneuver around federal laws that govern the issuance of non-immigrant F-1 visas. Now closed, Tri-Valley had been operating since 2008. Under the direction of President Susan Xiao-Ping Su, the school had obtained a religious tax exemption from the California Bureau for Private and Postsecondary Education. Foreign-born students who indicated that they would attend Tri-Valley could apply for an F-1 visa.

Between May 2009 to May 2010, the school’s F-1 visa enrollment jumped from 11 to 939. Then, by December 2010, the total soared to 1,555. During its initial investigation, the Department of Homeland Security discovered that enrolled students could earn a finder’s fee for referring others. Su denies any knowledge of the scam and blames two students for running the visa fraud scheme.

Even allowing Su the benefit of the doubt, she had to be aware that Tri-Valley did not meet another strict federal requirement for F-1 visas. According to ICE, to qualify, schools’ credits must be accepted by three other accredited universities. Bu Tri-Valley’s courses weren’t recognized by any other legitimate college.

The U.S. Attorney alleged that Su used Tri-Valley to charge foreigners millions of dollars in tuition fees and arranged F-1 visas for them as part of the deal so that they could remain in the U.S. According to a January complaint filed in the San Francisco U.S. District Court, as many as 95 percent of the students who took online Tri-Valley courses were subject to deportation for violating their immigration status. As is often the practice during pending deportation cases, many of the students were placed in ankle bracelets to track their movements and were also required to report regularly to immigration officials.

So far, so good. ICE had uncovered blatant fraud and the so-called students who participated in it were scheduled for deportation. But then, the Indian government intervened.

From New Delhi, India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna issued strong objections. Said Krishna, "We demand that the U.S. government initiate severe action against those officials [ICE] responsible for this inhuman act. Indian students are not criminals. The radio collars should immediately be removed."

And, as frequently happens in immigration cases, the U.S. bowed to outside foreign pressure. In response to Krishna, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote that “the interests” of the Indian students would be “carefully considered.” Clinton, it should be noted, is scheduled to travel to New Delhi in April for the second India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue conference.

No surprise then that most of the Tri-Valley students have been allowed to apply for reinstatement of their visas and that radio collars have been removed from all but a few.

This final and predictable outcome is what’s known among proponents of immigration law enforcement as “it’s not over until the alien wins.”

Existing U.S. immigration policy is not viable. Entering America is too easy and being deported, too hard. In the Tri-Valley case, it’s impossible to argue that the students and the Indian government aren’t fully aware that they skirted U.S. laws, specifically the F-1 visa’s regulations. If our government can’t track and close fraudulent universities before thousands come to supposedly study at them, we can’t have confidence in it to enforce other immigration laws.

In the end, flagrant though their violations are, the students have been allowed to stay. And, like most who come to America, they’re unlikely to ever go home.


Joe Guzzardi, a retired public school teacher, has written editorial columns—mostly about immigration and related social issues – since 1986. He is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) and his columns have frequently been syndicated in various U.S. newspapers and websites. He can be reached at [email protected]

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