[lg policy] Florida Language Institute Sold Student Visas, Feds Say: Lydia Menocal, Ofelia Macia Arrested

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 5 15:27:50 UTC 2010

Florida Language Institute Sold Student Visas, Feds Say: Lydia
Menocal, Ofelia Macia Arrested
First Posted: 03- 4-10 05:48 PM   |   Updated: 03- 4-10 06:23 PM

MIAMI (AP)-- A Florida language school helped illegally obtain student
visas for foreign nationals who never went to class, violating laws
enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks exposed weaknesses in the
program, authorities said Thursday. Eighty-one student visa holders
purportedly studying at the Florida Language Institute have been
arrested. None was on any federal watch list or linked to terrorism,
U.S. authorities said, though investigators were checking their
backgrounds. "We don't know exactly what they were doing," said U.S.
Attorney Jeffrey Sloman.

The school's owner, Lydia Menocal, 58, and employee Ofelia Macia, 75,
allegedly made $2.4 million over the past three years from foreign
nationals applying for U.S. student visas. It was not clear how much
they charged each student for the paperwork, authorities said. Menocal
and Macia were charged with conspiring to commit an offense against
the U.S., and Menocal faces other charges including falsifying
immigration documents, according to a grand jury indictment. Messages
left for Menocal at the school and for the women's attorney were not
immediately returned. The women "made a profit, in effect, by selling
student visas 'no questions asked,'" Sloman said.

The investigation "Operation Class Dismissed" began in 2007 when
immigration officials received a tip that the school was processing
student visas without requiring attendance in class, said Anthony
Mangione, chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Miami
office. Of the approximately 200 students enrolled at Florida Language
Institute in each of the past three years, only 5 percent regularly
attended class, he said. The school offered classes to help
international students improve their English skills. Menocal and Macia
failed to report to authorities, as required by the post-9/11 rules,
that the vast majority of the Miami school's students were not coming
to class, according to the indictment.

"It's a systemic failure to report to class, not a vacation day here
and there," Mangione said. One student visa holder was processed for
deportation and released, and the rest remain in ICE custody. All were
described as being in their 20s. More than 50 came from Thailand, and
others came from Syria, Honduras, South Korea, Japan, Colombia, the
Dominican Republic, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Indonesia,
Venezuela and Brazil, ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said. Some of the
terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks had student visas to stay in
this country, including one who never showed up for class at a
California language school.

Both Menocal and Macia were released Wednesday on bond, authorities
said. If convicted, they face up to 5 years in prison on the
conspiracy charge, and Menocal faces up to 10 years in prison on the
other charges of making false statements. The indictment also seeks
the forfeiture of $2.4 million. Florida Language Institute has been
decertified, and investigators were still looking for other students
who may have broken the law, authorities said. ICE officials said the
takedown of the school was the largest visa fraud investigation in the
agency's history.

-- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/04/floriday-language-institu_n_486493.html
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