If you've been keeping one eye on the news in this holiday season, you may have heard about the federal agency that built a fake university to trap and deport foreigners plotting to further their education on American soil.
As my Free Press colleague Niraj Warikoo reported, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently revealed that it has now arrested about 250 foreign students who enrolled in a fake university the agency founded in Farmington, Mich.
The students hoped admission to the University of Farmington would preserve their eligibility for student visas, allowing them to remain in Michigan, as the Department of Homeland Security's website assured them it would.
Instead, the United States moved to expel them on grounds that they knew, or at least should have suspected, that the school was bogus.
But wait - it gets weirder.
Turns out ICE was so intent on attracting would-be students to its fake university that it persuaded a commission of academic professionals to give it a fake accreditation.
Then, just to reassure students who might become suspicious upon discovering that the spurious University of Farmington had no professors or classrooms, ICE advertised the fake university's authenticity on the government website foreign students consult to make sure schools they're applying to meet the requirements of the federal student visa program.
In an inspired touch designed to nail down its bona fides, the fake university charged the foreign students it admitted hefty tuition payments to enroll.
(The tuition payments were real, by the way, because it turns out that establishing and maintaining such an elaborate ruse costs real money, even if you scrimp on the course offerings. Some of the students deported after ICE revealed the fraud are still paying off the real loans they took out to bankroll their payments.)
The audacity of ambition
Now, I know what your thinking. Because I, too, was puzzled that ICE would go to such lengths just to make sure a couple hundred foreign students didn't overstay their welcome.
I get that securing our borders is important, especially when those seeking to penetrate them have a history of criminal activity. But the students ICE snared in its University of Farmington sting didn't meet that description.
None of the students swept up in the fake university had criminal records when they entered this country lawfully on student visas. None had demonstrated an ambition to do anything but augment their skills and get ahead - the same thing thousands of Michigan parents urge their own children to do when they head out the door each morning.
But it turns out that some of the students were interested in more than accumulating knowledge and parlaying it into better employment opportunities back in their native countries.
Many were plotting to put that knowledge to work in the service of U.S. companies - employers who might help them obtain work visas that would allow them to prolong their stays in the United States.
Others audaciously aspired to obtain permanent jobs, acquire real estate, and take up residence in local communities - communities where the taxes they paid might one day be used to pay for services like police and fire protection and road maintenance.
And as if that weren't sinister enough, there was the prospect that the tax dollars of those students-turned-employees might one day be used to subsidize real universities - schools that could compete with the fake universities ICE established to attract foreign students.
Oh, the treachery! Is it any wonder ICE felt compelled to resort to drastic measures?
Accomplices in cruelty
But maybe, even after considering the nightmare scenario in which non-Scandinavian foreigners educated in the United States go on to actually live here, you're not convinced ICE should have made it such a priority to expel them.
Maybe you think a country whose legitimate schools aren't all that good at turning out students prepared to compete in the global workplace shouldn't be squandering its limited resources on fake ones.
Maybe you're actually appalled at the idea of weaponizing foreign students' dreams of a better life in a sting designed to drive them from the landscape. You might even think that participating in such an exercise is akin to burning the American flag.
Or worse than that, because the flag is just a symbol, while the hope of improving one's lot through education and hard work is the dream that defines America. And you understand that to mock that dream is to forfeit any pretense that our country is more generous, or less mean-spirited, than anyone else's.
But here's the worst thing: In our country, ordinary Americans are ultimately accountable for the cynical tricks their government plays on others. When bureaucrats empowered by people we elected use the tax dollars we supply to run a con on foreign students, we are all complicit in their cruelty, unless we exercise every option to stop it.
ICE's fake university scam doesn't just ignore the values the United States has historically exalted; it desecrates them by criminalizing young foreigners naive enough to believe in America's promise of opportunity. A people who condone such cynical subterfuge in the name of border security deserve the derision heaped on their country's hollow slogans.
Brian Dickerson is the Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit Free Press where this column first appeared.
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Immigration enforcement: Fake University ignores United States' values