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The Trump administration on Wednesday announced that it is cracking down on the abuse of a work training program by immigrants in the country on student visas — arresting more than a dozen immigrants and moving to revoke the work permits of hundreds more.

“The arrests we highlight today are just the beginning and should serve as a warning,” acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Tony Pham said at a press conference. “Any non-immigrant student who fails to maintain or violates the terms of their non-immigration status is subject to arrest and removal from the United States.”


Operation OPTical Illusion was launched in January to crack down on the abuse of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for immigrants on student visas. That program grants temporary employment directly related to the student’s field, and allows them to work for up to 12 months before and after their studies are finished.

But it has raised concerns about abuse, and ICE says it arrested 15 non-immigrant students who claimed to be employed by companies that don’t exist. “Non-immigrant” refers to immigrants who are on temporary visas, rather than those living permanently in the U.S.

ICE said the arrests took place in Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania and included 11 Indian nationals, two Libyan nationals, one Senegalese national and one Bangladeshi national.


Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is also sending out about 700 letters to a group of 1100 foreign nationals that ICE identified as in the U.S. “out of status.”

ICE will seek to remove them from the country, and they’ve been informed their work permits will be revoked. The remaining few hundred have work permits that expire so soon that USCIS isn’t even issuing a letter, they simply won’t renew their work permits.

He also suggested that employers, as well as immigrants, had abused the program for cheap labor.

“One of the most un-American things I can think of is an employer who is depriving qualified Americans of work while filling that job with a foreign national who doesn’t qualify for it, just to save a buck,” he said.

Cuccinelli said it was one of a number of actions taken by Trump to make sure that the labor market “is clear for American workers to get back to work first” after the spike in unemployment related to the COVID-19 crisis.

The move was welcomed by those in favor of immigration restrictions, although the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) said the administration should go a step further and scrap the program.

“While this enforcement under new ICE Director Pham is encouraging, it’s long past time for the White House to end the OPT program entirely,” RJ Hauman, FAIR’s head of government relations told Fox News. “It’s not Congressionally mandated, diverts over a billion dollars from Medicare and Social Security due to payroll tax exemption, and worst of all, it takes jobs away from American graduates looking for employment in these trying times.”

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