Unfriending the University of Northern New Jersey
April 6, 2016 3:30 PM   Subscribe

The US Department of Homeland Security created a fake for-profit institution, the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ), as part of a sting operation targeting student-visa fraud. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the demise of UNNJ's Facebook page, which featured photos of a mysterious cup of coffee and condolences for the fictional death of the fictional president's mother.
posted by yarntheory (46 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I want some of this swag so bad. Think it'll go up for auction?
posted by Miko at 3:37 PM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


This is basically my dream job, but I'm guessing there's not too many positions currently hiring for graphic designers/faux social media managers.
posted by redsparkler at 3:42 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I want some of this swag so bad. Think it'll go up for auction?
Ugh I can dream.

Wouldn't all of the designs be in the public domain now though? Coming to a novelty t-shirt stand near you...
posted by books for weapons at 3:45 PM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


So... are they going to lose their accreditation now?

/hamburger
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:59 PM on April 6, 2016


Nice sting operation DHS. #OPSEC #missionaccomplished
posted by Phssthpok at 4:00 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Almost looks like Manny Pacquiao looking for help with a course.
posted by clawsoon at 4:14 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is basically my dream job, but I'm guessing there's not too many positions currently hiring for graphic designers/faux social media managers.
I know it is easy to miss, but are you aware that 2016 is an election year?
posted by b1tr0t at 4:17 PM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'd be interested to learn how the government managed to get its fake institution accredited. That seems like it'd require either a massive and hard-to-imagine fraud on, or a pretty radically unethical complicity from, the accreditors.
posted by RogerB at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I saw an article about this today, which had photos of some of the paraphernalia made for this institution, and my first thought is that's what the sharpest ironists and troublemakers will be wearing.
posted by acb at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


Another 'school' that is obviously a cover for a gov't operation: The Antonin Scalia School of Law. (Yeah, and their swag would be just as cool as UNNJ's.. or Trump University's)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:47 PM on April 6, 2016


This NY Times article has more about the legal aspects of the case. This just kills me:

Mr. Fishman said all of the recruited students were already living in the United States, having initially obtained visas legally, but were looking for a way to stay. Many were living and working throughout the country.

I truly don't understand an immigration policy that would go so far to find and kick out people who are here, just working and living their lives. I imagine the vast majority would not have gotten involved in such a scheme if it were not so difficult to stay in this country.
posted by lunasol at 5:09 PM on April 6, 2016 [25 favorites]


I loved her, dear reader, if only fictionally.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 5:20 PM on April 6, 2016


Er, like, how is this not entrapment?
posted by JHarris at 5:23 PM on April 6, 2016


Er, like, how is this not entrapment?

Because the visa fraudsters actively sought out accomplices and co-conspirators for the crime they wanted to commit who just so happened to be the government. For it to be entrapment you need to overcome resistance to committing the crime.
posted by Talez at 5:35 PM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


That swag hat: Princeton, but green!
posted by leotrotsky at 5:43 PM on April 6, 2016


obviously a cover for a gov't operation: The Antonin Scalia School of Law.

I am disappoint it is not in the fictional town of Christwater.
posted by Devonian at 5:44 PM on April 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


lunasol, it sounds like they only arrested/prosecuted the brokers who were getting the fradulent visas for people (the nytimes article points out the actual brokers were citizens or green card holders, mostly, not people here on temporary visas).

It does say they (the students) will likely lose their visas (which makes sense), but not how aggressively the government will pursue them. Lots of people continue to live here after they lose their visas.

I know... quite a few people who have committed student visa fraud to live/work here. I don't have an ethical issue with it, but I just wish we made it easier for them to have an aboveboard way to do it. These are people who are working and paying their own way, they just don't have the luck/connections/special skills to get an actual work visa.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:45 PM on April 6, 2016


My co-worker got disappeared this morning as a consequence of this and will be out of the country by this weekend. Our company lawyers were fully informed and aware that she was enrolled at a school where she attended no classes in order to work legally while she waited for the H1B whatsit to be processed and they saw nothing strange about it. Lucky for them, all the consequences fall on her.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:50 PM on April 6, 2016 [27 favorites]


why not just walk on over? no one is stopping them.
posted by shockingbluamp at 5:52 PM on April 6, 2016


I'd be interested to learn how the government managed to get its fake institution accredited. That seems like it'd require either a massive and hard-to-imagine fraud on, or a pretty radically unethical complicity from, the accreditors.

What would be fraudulent or unethical about it? The government would contact the accreditors and obtain their cooperation in conducting this sting. They do this all the time with institutions like banks.
posted by Sangermaine at 5:55 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


What would be fraudulent or unethical about it?

Only that if you were a foreign worker looking for a school to apply to that could help you stay in the country legally, accreditation would be one of the things you might check to see if it was a scam or not. that's all. But those people weren't the direct targets of the sting so ethical behavior towards them seems to have been beside the point.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:10 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


she was enrolled at a school where she attended no classes in order to work legally

I wonder what visa that was. The usual student visa that I know of is the F visa which does not allow you to work (outside the school).
posted by thefoxgod at 6:14 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


What would be fraudulent or unethical about it? The government would contact the accreditors and obtain their cooperation in conducting this sting. They do this all the time with institutions like banks.

Because accreditors aren't supposed to accredit fake institutions, as that drags their reputation and the entire basis of accreditation into meaninglessness?

Certainly, a lot of people involved knew the school was a sham and went along with it, like the folks who set queenofbithynia's colleague up to attend the fake school. But can you promise me that absolutely nobody, at any point in the last five years, was duped by a university with a reasonable sounding name, internet presence, accreditation, and approval by DHS to enroll foreign students? The students, presumably, paid big bucks to these recruiters; did they all do so fully aware at all times that there would be no classes or instructors?

There are enormous ethical questions here, which have largely been ignored in the rush to laugh at the government's fake Facebook page.
posted by zachlipton at 6:16 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


FWIW, there's a couple dozen of people listing UNNJ as their alma mater on LinkedIn. (Including, now, me.)
posted by phooky at 6:22 PM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


go Vapors!
posted by phooky at 6:22 PM on April 6, 2016 [14 favorites]


thefoxgod - I don't really understand any of the details but we have several people with or waiting on H1B visas, and some are contractors in the mean time but others are regular employees I think? through some means or other? I only know there was a lot of HR rigamarole before she was officially hired, and this particular person told anybody who asked that she was officially a student at an unnamed NJ university while full-time here ('here' is not NJ.) so however much willful ignorance there might have been, there was no deception. then suddenly today, media coverage and announcement of her vanishing. I don't know if my employer could have done anything at all to help her at this point but I don't think they thought of trying.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:27 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Unseen University.
posted by adept256 at 6:48 PM on April 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


On an F-1 it's called Curricular Practical Training and it can and is very much abused as a H-1B "alternative".
posted by Talez at 7:06 PM on April 6, 2016


Certainly, a lot of people involved knew the school was a sham and went along with it, like the folks who set queenofbithynia's colleague up to attend the fake school. But can you promise me that absolutely nobody, at any point in the last five years, was duped by a university with a reasonable sounding name, internet presence, accreditation, and approval by DHS to enroll foreign students? The students, presumably, paid big bucks to these recruiters; did they all do so fully aware at all times that there would be no classes or instructors?

The people fake-attending this university knew that they weren't attending a university. The brokers brought them to the university...one must assume that those brokers were selling a way to work rather than a way to become educated. Otherwise the brokers would be found out the first time an outraged student made a complaint to the authorities. What broker would want that?
posted by R a c h e l at 7:47 PM on April 6, 2016


Unseen University


"Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same"*

This OP reminds me of Leopold Treppers' "Foreign Excellent Rain Coat Company" in its structural 3 wall set-up.

*'Little Boxes'
posted by clavdivs at 8:00 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the problem in general is F-1 is much easier to get than work or immigrant-intent visas, so a lot of schools make money by essentially just selling "proof" you are going to school. Then the "student" gets a job under the table and is just living and working in the US without really going to school (either entirely not going, or maybe doing like 1 class a week). I know several language schools in LA that do this.

(Again, I really don't have a big problem with this in a general sense, but its definitely against immigration law. The big risk is that if you get caught, you're pretty much going to be barred from the US forever, and the people who do this obviously really want to live here, so even that is a pretty negative consequence. But its not like there's any easy alternative if you don't have special skills to get an H1-B job which are pretty limited anyway, and its probably a lot easier than abusing marriage visas/etc...)
posted by thefoxgod at 8:21 PM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yup, does look like this was a ruse to get employment under the OPT scheme. H1B has a yearly quota, but as I understand, OPT doesn't; apparently, that's why people (read Indians) generally don't like to officially graduate from university or something. Was reading somewhere that people registered here even got jobs in the likes of Facebook, Apple etc.

Incidentally, am not sure why The Chronicle thinks the wedding picture is "obviously" photoshopped, when to my Indian eyes, it looks anything but. The lady mentioned there seems to be legit; a quick Google search suggests there's a person by that name who graduated from New Jersey Institute of Technology with a degree in "Pharmaceutical Systems Management" (there was a commencement list for 2013 still being hosted on NJIT.edu; not linking there because this is getting uncomfortably close to doxxing). The lady's surname is rather unique; either the person really did an OPT thing from UNNJ, or the UNNJ folk lifted names from the NJIT website.
posted by the cydonian at 3:27 AM on April 7, 2016


> I'd be interested to learn how the government managed to get its fake institution accredited.

Considering the ease with which for-profit universities can get accreditation, I doubt the Feds would have had any difficulties even if New Jersey wouldn't cooperate.

On the (grim) upside, these people may get deported and face a lifetime ban on red teeing the US, but at least they won't be facing tens of thousands of dollars in additional student loan debt.
posted by ardgedee at 4:20 AM on April 7, 2016


("red teeing"? That should be "returning to". Autocorrect is weird.)
posted by ardgedee at 4:30 AM on April 7, 2016


Had insomnia so made a high resolution version of the UNNJ logo / seal. Not perfect but good enough to make a mug or t-shirt celebrating your alma mater.
posted by honestcoyote at 4:39 AM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


lunasol, it sounds like they only arrested/prosecuted the brokers who were getting the fradulent visas for people (the nytimes article points out the actual brokers were citizens or green card holders, mostly, not people here on temporary visas).

I was glad to see this; when I first saw the news I had thought it was a way to target and deport individual people who were just trying to find a way (albeit of perhaps questionable legality) to stay here. But it also sounds like some of those people (as in the comment above about the coworker) are being deported, even though they may not be facing charges.

The real problem is that we have such a convoluted and often broken immigration system that incentivizes fraud and deception. I wish we could combine fixing the system with prosecuting the fraudsters, rather than settling for just the sting operations.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:40 AM on April 7, 2016



The real problem is that we have such a convoluted and often broken immigration system that incentivizes fraud and deception

As a now naturalized immigrant, I've made this point multiple times is the context of border security. "Do you think people would risk violence and death walking across the Arizona desert if they could just go to the American consulate and get a visa?" The same logic holds in this situation, failure to permit legal action is tantamount to encouragement of illegality.
posted by Octaviuz at 5:08 AM on April 7, 2016


Had insomnia so made a high resolution version of the UNNJ logo / seal. Not perfect but good enough to make a mug or t-shirt celebrating your alma mater.

You beat me to it. HUMANUS * SCIENTIA * INTEGRITAS

At least my degree from the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople is still valid.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:48 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Talez: “Because the visa fraudsters actively sought out accomplices and co-conspirators for the crime they wanted to commit who just so happened to be the government. For it to be entrapment you need to overcome resistance to committing the crime.”

And we should just, like, believe the gov't when they say that. Because they totally wouldn't lie about it. No entrapment here! They've never entrapped anybody. And the fact that all the articles mention "middle-men," but all the people being "dealt with" by authorities were just people enrolled as students, is totally and completely non-suspicious.

Go Badgers!
posted by koeselitz at 6:53 AM on April 7, 2016


(Ah, if they really only arrested the brokers, that's great. But most of the articles didn't mention that. Thanks for that detail.)
posted by koeselitz at 7:18 AM on April 7, 2016


At least my degree from the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople is still valid.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:48 AM on April 7

Hey! I played there one time with the Tactical Wind Ensemble from the local naval base.
posted by ericales at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


All I have to say about corruption in New Jersey is this: Both of the times that I had my car inspected for license renewal, the attendant was visibly disappointed that my car passed on the first try.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:53 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: "And we should just, like, believe the gov't when they say that. Because they totally wouldn't lie about it. No entrapment here! They've never entrapped anybody. And the fact that all the articles mention "middle-men," but all the people being "dealt with" by authorities were just people enrolled as students, is totally and completely non-suspicious."

Actually, the government shot and killed everyone involved and then covered it up. Because why should we believe them when they say they haven't?

Actually, the government never even created a fake university named University of Northern New Jersey, nor did it conduct a sting operation. Because why should we believe them when they say they did?

We have clear evidence here that the government entrapped people, or murdered them, or didn't do anything at all to them, and I am indignant.
posted by Bugbread at 6:14 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


What I really want to know is, why HUMANUS (the adjective) and not HUMANITAS (the noun)? Is this five minutes' sloppy work with a dictionary, or inspired parody?

The INTEGRITAS part is just cruel.
posted by yarntheory at 6:49 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Definitely five minutes sloppy work. The font used in the seal is Cambria, which is just the height of laziness. But at least it wasn't Times New Roman. I'd expect that one from a gov't agency.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:07 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


This brings back memories of the mysterious brooklynculinaryinstitute.edu, and I'm sad to see their site is offline now.

I could only find a tiny version of their logo, but I love their classy French motto: Pour servir l'homme.
posted by moonmilk at 6:40 PM on April 8, 2016


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