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Former DSO Official Guilty of Visa Fraud

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The Trump administration has made its intentions on immigration clear through its actions over the past two-plus years. While the border and proposed wall grab nightly headlines, immigration enforcement is increasing in intensity in all sectors—including higher education. This makes it imperative that higher-ed officials are aware of immigration policies and the actions of the people responsible for handling them, as the momentary lapse in judgment of one person in a position of authority is all it takes to land in the headlines, be subjected to fines, and face jail time. This was the case of Daniel Cabanillas, a Designated School Official (DSO) at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Daniel Cabanillas found himself in the sights of federal prosecutors for knowingly making a false statement on a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. In his position as DSO at Mercyhurst University, Cabanillas falsely claimed that a student had been accepted into a master’s degree program—the false Form I-20 was then used by the student to obtain a student visa to gain entry to the United States. Although Cabanillas plead guilty to this one incident, the court was advised that Cabanillas falsified acceptance documents for dozens of other students while working as a DSO for Mercyhurst University.  
Cabanilla’s transgression cost him his job; he was terminated on February 19, 2015. Additionally, Cabanillas was sentenced in federal court to two years probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine—although the law provides for a maximum total sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine up to $500,000, or both. For its employment of Cabanillas, Mercyhurst University has received negative attention making national headlines in the hot-button topic of immigration. 
Marlon V. Miller, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HIS), the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said: “This investigation is an example of how those that abuse the immigration process will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Mr. Cabanillas, while serving in his capacity as a designated school official at Mercyhurst University, abused his authority and undermined the integrity of the international student visa process.” 
Designated School Officials play a vital role in the operation of any college or university enrolling international students. DSOs serve under a Principal Designated School Official (PDSO)—the main point of contact for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)—and are responsible for the oversight and assistance of students enrolled with an F or M visa. One of the administrative functions of DSOs is the updating of student records in SEVIS, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) web-based system for maintaining information on international nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors in the United States. Because DSOs are the connection between colleges/universities and the government, it’s imperative that they provide accurate information. 
According to U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, “The Student Exchange and Visitor Program relies on the honesty and integrity of Designated School Officials to truthfully certify to the information contained in Visa application documents, and when DSOs provide or certify false information, our system of lawful immigration into the United States for educational purposes is frustrated.”
In today’s era of heightened immigration enforcement, all institutions should be prepared to have their immigration programs audited or investigated—including colleges and universities. Smart schools shouldn’t wait for the government to look into their immigration practices; rather, they should self-audit and establish best practices to ensure they’re compliant with all rules and regulations to avoid penalties and negative press. If your school has a question about its immigration practices or is interested in developing a system to ensure compliance, contact GoffWilson today
With over 30 years of experience and solely practicing immigration, GoffWilson has helped numerous educational institutions enroll brilliant students from across the globe and we can assist you as well. Immigration is what we do! 
Filed under:Immigration Law