Some of the Indian students duped by a 'sham' university in California have been forced to wear radio-trackers around their ankles, triggering a wave of anger through the Indian community. India said the use of monitors was "unwarranted" and raised the issue with the US deputy ambassador Saturday.
Some 1,555 students of Tri-Valley University, 90% of them from India, mostly Andhra Pradesh, face the prospect of deportation following the closure of the university in Pleasanton on charges of selling student visas.
Some of the students who approached Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to seek help were placed under ISAP (Intense Supervision and Appearance Programme) and put in removal proceedings.
A number of students have already been interviewed by ICE agents, most have been questioned and released but a few have been required to wear ankle bracelets, Jayaram Komati of the Telugu Association of North America (TANA) told IANS.
Throughout Saturday, Indian television channels had displaying visuals of Indian students with radio trackers around one ankle, which was apparently done to monitor their movements.
India protested the measure.
"We have conveyed to the US authorities that the students, most of who are victims themselves, must be treated fairly and reasonably, and that the use of monitors on a group of students, who were detained and later released with monitors in accordance with US laws, is unwarranted and should be removed," said Indian external affairs ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash in New Delhi.
US Deputy Chief of Mission Donald Lu was called to the external ministry and apprised of India's concerns over the measure.
Prakash said that MEA and Indian consulate general in San Francisco are in touch with the Indian students and US authorities, adding that "everything possible" will be done to safeguard the students' "legitimate interests".
"The students should be given ample opportunity to clarify their position and present their case; those who wish to return to India should be allowed to do so voluntarily; those students who have not violated any visa or immigration laws should be given opportunity to adjust their status; and, those who are eligible to seek transfer to other universities should be given adequate opportunity and time to do so," he said.
The Indian community in the US has expressed shock and anger over the measure.
"It is very unfortunate that the students of the Tri Valley are being treated like criminals for none of their fault," Ramesh Annamreddy, another prominent community leader, said.
"Telugu community in North America is deeply disturbed", over the development, said North America Telugu Society (NATS) president Ravi Madala.
Requesting US Citizenship and Immigration Services to resolve this issue immediately, Madala said, NATS will fight to protect the rights of Indian students and is also working with the Indian external affairs ministry to resolve the issue.
Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP) demanded immediate intervention of Indian government asking it to "provide immediate alternative arrangements for all these displaced students of Tri Valley to complete their studies at no additional cost to them".
“It is a another big diplomatic failure of Indian government and the result is the suffering of Indian students at the hands of US Department of Homeland Security," said OFBJP President Adapa Prasad.
Meanwhile, Komati, whose organisation has some 35,000 members also advised students attending Tri-Valley University to seek immigration advice from an immigration attorney.
"Ultimately, we want to protect the kids within the boundaries of the law," he said. "They are not here to break the law. This is no fault of the students. It is the university not living up to the norms of society."
Expressing shock at the news, North American Telugu Association (NATA) A.V.N. Reddy said his organisation is is determined to make every effort in helping students of Telugu community in their legal needs.
It has also organised a conference call for students at 12.00 p.m. Sunday with immigration attorney Rajiv S. Khanna of immigration.com to understand the students grievances and guide them on the immigration issues.
Students can contact NATA for the conference call details by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line "conference".
NATA is also planning to arrange counselling through Patrick Papallia who is specialist on civil litigation and business law, a partner at Herten & Burstien.
Meanwhile, the US authorities have opened a helpline for the Indian students. "We have set up an email address and voicemail that Tri-Valley students can use to contact ICE Homeland Security Investigations directly with their questions," Lari K Haley, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson said.
Haley said any affected student can call the US number 415-844-5320 and leave the voice message. An ICE representative will return the call, she said. Students can also write to 'SFRHSIFraud@dhs.gov', seeking help.
India has also asked US authorities for provide full information about the students and keep it in the loop about investigations and prosecution against the Tri-Valley University.