In one of the most ridiculous immigration stories in recent memory, Britain’s The Guardian has run a piece officiously chastising U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for…wait for it…breaking Facebook’s rules.
How did this egregious violation come to pass? ICE lied about its identity in order to conduct a sting operation:
F-1 nonimmigrant status allows foreign students to come to the U.S. temporarily to study English, earn a degree, and gain practical experience through a year of employment with an American company. But F-1 students are required to take 12 credits worth of classes and make satisfactory progress toward their intended degree.
As a result, foreign students who can’t get into American universities, can’t afford their tuition or can’t pass their courses often go looking for a cheap, easy way to remain in F-1 status. And over the last few decades there have been a number of fly-by-night educational institutions more than happy to assist such students in creating the illusion of complying with F-1 visa requirements.
Starting in 2015, ICE set up a sham university designed to catch foreign students looking to fraudulently obtain or extend F-1 student nonimmigrant status. And they advertised it using a medium popular among college age people: Facebook. The sting worked, and ICE reeled in over 160 criminals.
Nevertheless, Facebook seemed to imply that the students ensnared in ICE’s sting were victims, rather than bad actors who deliberately set out to associate themselves with a bogus university in order to break U.S. immigration laws. A Facebook representative quoted in The Guardian’s story pompously proclaimed, “Law enforcement authorities, like everyone else, are required to use their real names on Facebook and we make this policy clear on our public-facing Law Enforcement Guidelines page. Operating fake accounts is not allowed, and we will act on any violating accounts.”
It’s nice that the social media giant seems so concerned about transparency. But here’s the thing, The Guardian’s story is just an ongoing part of the media’s tendency to make folk heroes out of villains whenever it reports on immigration. Despite veiled suggestions to the contrary, ICE’s Facebook sting operation appears to have been conducted in full accordance with all of the relevant civil rights laws.
As early as 1969, the Supreme Court held in Frazier v. Cupp that law enforcement officers may intentionally deceive suspects while conducting a criminal investigation. More recently, the U.S. District Court of New Jersey held in U.S. v. Gatson that police may set up fake social media accounts, without a warrant, when investigating crimes. The fact is, bad guys don’t often show up at police stations and confess their evil deeds, that’s why detective work is necessary in the first place.
What’s really disturbing about this case isn’t ICE’s actions – the agency was simply exercising its lawful authority in order to protect the American public from immigration fraud – it’s the fact that Facebook doesn’t appear to be the least bit concerned that foreign students were using their platform to facilitate immigration fraud.
And Americans who use Facebook should be wondering why Mark Zuckerberg’s team of techno whiz kids more interested in protecting immigration fraudsters from ICE than they are in protecting the U.S. from immigration scams?