Preliminary Settlement Provides Relief to Former UNNJ Students14 Feb 2022
A U.S. federal district court has approved a preliminary settlement agreement for former students of the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ), a fictitious university created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2012. Following the closure of UNNJ in 2016, the DHS terminated the F-1 status of students enrolled at the school, and in several cases made findings of fraud and misrepresentation resulting in permanent inadmissibility against many UNNJ students.
The settlement agreement stems from a lawsuit filed in 2016 by former UNNJ students who believed that the government’s blanket policy of terminating students’ F-1 status and making inadmissibility decisions without conducting individual hearings violated the law. Pursuant to the proposed settlement agreement, former UNNJ students will be protected from facing negative consequences, including denials of immigration benefits, solely due to their enrollment at UNNJ.
Terms of the Settlement Agreement
The settlement agreement defines a class member as “any noncitizen who, for any period of time, enrolled in the University of Northern New Jersey.” As such, even if a student only enrolled at UNNJ for a very brief period, that student would be protected under this settlement. The full terms of the proposed settlement agreement have been posted on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website in order to notify potential class members. The notice of proposed class action settlement outlines all the applicable terms. Notably, under the proposed settlement agreement, the U.S. government has agreed to the following terms:
- It will not rely on a student’s enrollment at UNNJ as the only reason to find a former UNNJ student deportable or inadmissible.
- It will not deny an immigration benefit to a former UNNJ student based only on prior enrollment at UNNJ. In addition, if former UNNJ students were already denied an immigration benefit, that denial should not negatively impact the student’s future applications for immigration benefits.
- Former UNNJ students can retract any UNNJ-related misrepresentations made prior to the 2016 closure of the university. If a UNNJ student made any misrepresentation relating to enrollment at UNNJ, the student can retract or correct this misrepresentation in a later filing, application, or interview. If the statement is retracted, the government cannot consider the statement “material” to support a finding of inadmissibility due to fraud or misrepresentation.
- DHS will dismiss removal proceedings against former UNNJ students, and reopen and dismiss removal proceedings for any former UNNJ students who the DHS removed due to enrollment at UNNJ.
- The DHS will consider former UNNJ students to be in lawful immigration status from the date of enrollment at UNNJ through 180 days after the Court approves the final Settlement, or 180 days after removal proceedings are terminated, if applicable.
- The DHS will expedite applications for immigration benefits filed during the time periods mentioned in point 5.
- The DHS will remove references to “fraud” including any findings of fraud-related inadmissibility from former UNNJ’s record that arose solely from enrollment at UNNJ.
The proposed settlement agreement also outlines obligations for each class member, including the requirement that class members without lawful status submit an application to obtain legal status, or depart the U.S. within 180 days from the date the court approves the settlement agreement.
Timeline for Finalizing Agreement
The deadline for any class member to object to the settlement agreement is April 4, 2022, and the court will hold a fairness hearing May 2, 2022. If the court approves the settlement agreement, the agreement will be effective as of the date of approval.
If finalized this settlement agreement will greatly benefit former UNNJ students who have faced denials of benefit requests since the UNNJ closed in 2016. While the settlement only applies to former UNNJ students, there are other ongoing lawsuits pertaining to former students of Farmington University, which was another university created by the DHS. Whether this settlement will affect those cases remains to be seen.
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