DHS taps big data to ferret out phony schools peddling student visas

 An ICE officer holds fake test scores and ID cards after a bust on a fake student visa ring in 2010.

An ICE officer holds fake test scores and ID cards after a bust on a fake student visa ring in 2010. AP file photo

Bogus institutions sell immigration papers under the guise of collecting tuition and fees.

The Homeland Security Department has invested in a pattern-matching tool aimed at spotting schools trafficking in fake student visas and potentially posing a terrorist threat, DHS officials said.

Senators on Tuesday questioned a department Immigration and Customs Enforcement official about the existence of bogus educational institutions essentially selling immigration papers, particularly in California. For example, about 38 percent of certified flight training schools lack requisite documentation to operate from the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a Government Accountability Office report released July 17.

ICE officials said they are beginning to discern which establishments are violating immigration rules by synthesizing data reported by the schools and intelligence on cyber and infrastructure threats supplied by Homeland Security analysts. Schools that have committed egregious infractions are identified as high risk and will be referred for possible criminal investigation, said John Woods, an assistant director at ICE Homeland Security investigations.

“I’m not saying we don’t have a long way to go. We’re moving forward. We’re trying to make the corrections,” Woods told the lawmakers. “We’re in the process of developing risk factors, which will be in place before the close out of this fiscal year.”

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; called for the GAO review, following revelations that Tri-Valley University of Pleasanton in California transferred student visas to foreign visitors without serving as a place of learning.

The auditors identified 30 of 48 randomly selected ICE-certified schools that were missing required credentials, such as proof of school officials’ citizenship or permanent residency.