The Daunting Prospect of Representing Yourself Before A Lower Immigration Tribuanal— Been There, Done That!

How time does fly. Last year on 23rd July I represented myself against the Home Office in a Lower Immigration Tribunal Case requesting a ‘leave outside the rules’. A few day s later, this is what I wrote to supporters on the Justice4Sanaz Facebook group while my JR against the OIAHE was about to be filed:

“I arrived at Phoenix House in Bradford at 9:35am, where the First Tier Tribunal for immigration cases took place. It was a welcomed sight to see Simone Janine Helena Conneff there waiting for me. As I have mentioned on my FB wall, the night before going to the hearing, I was a ball of nerves. Representing yourself in any capacity, much less in an immigration tribunal is a daunting and difficult ordeal. After witnessing the treatment of Orashia (please see Defend Orashia) at his hearing, I had little hope that I would be in any better position.

After going through a G4S security check, Simone and I waited in the reception area. One could not help but noticed how racialized the British immigration system is- most of the people in the reception area waiting to be called into their respective hearings were people of color, from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Some had legal representation, but a vast majority did not. Cuts to legal aid in England & Wales, and in particular to immigration law cases, has had a dire effect on vulnerable communities, especially to working class migrants and people of color. These cuts after all, is the government’s strategy to marginalize these groups further by clipping their wings and preventing them from having ammunition in order to fight back against injustices they face, and especially so state violence.

On the documents provided by the Home Office, they stated that my hearing would take place at 10am. However, as a seasoned court warrior, I knew my hearing time depended on how many others were in queue. A few minutes later, and Justice4Sanaz supporters from Leeds and Bradford arrived. By now it was 10:15am, and a court secretary (I suppose that was her title) came to me and notified that I was next on the list to have my case heard. Another 15 mins. passed by and the court secretary called out my name and we all made our way towards court 3, where my case took place.

All courts, no matter if the color scheme is in pastel shades, are designed to be intimidating areas. Court 3 was no exception. Although, as this was a tribunal, and thus, more of an informality to the entire process. I sat down and noticed the Home Office solicitor, who was seated to my left, and the judge, who was directly seated in front of me.

As I sat down, the judge began to state what today’s hearing entailed. After taking care of some housekeeping issues, concerning my lack of a fixed address, the judge permitted the Home Office solicitor to question me.

Before I entered the tribunal, I realized early on that the Home Office solicitor’s job was to derail and cast doubt on the merits of my argument, which were (a) that I must remain in the UK in order to pursue my judicial review case as pursuant to my article 6 rights as indicated in the Human Rights Act of 1998 (right to a fair trial, etc.) and that (b) I already have a Legal Aid certificate and at the moment, the financial portion of my Legal Aid certificate is being settled. If I were to be forced back to the US I would lose my means to receiving Legal Aid, as one can only receive Legal Aid if legally residing in the UK and (c) the University of Leeds had taken and exorbitantly long time to make a final decision concerning my internal appeal so to make it difficult for me to make an appeal as they knew I was on a student visa and subject to restrictions.

I think I put together a cogent argument. I did not let the Home Office solicitor move an inch on overtaking my argument Of course, in retrospect, I probably could have added more points, especially in light of my treatment at the University of Leeds. I do think, though the e-mail that my ex-supervisor, Helen Kennedy sent on the 2nd December 2013 which stated in relation to my immigration woes that she hoped that I’d “fail” in re-entering and/or legally staying in the UK was pivotal during the hearing and the judge certainly took noticed. I later explained that in court, that it showed, that the ICS staff hoped that my immigration situation is unsuccessful so that they can be absolved from any legal action concerning their wrongdoing and negligence. You can read more concerning this e-mail and others here—> http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/neoliberalism-higher-educat…/

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Justice4Sanaz supporters who came out in solidarity during the lower immigration tribunal hearing on the 23rd July 2014.

At the end, the judge said that she would make a decision concerning my case in 2 weeks and send the decision via post. For my concluding remarks, I stressed that non-EU international students should have the same recourse to take their institutions to task just like our British and EU counterparts.  Residency or citizenship should not be used as a deterrence in order to silence non-EU international from taking their institutions to task on their failings.”

My somewhat hopeful outlook would later be crushed when on 31 July 2014 I was informed that I had lost my appeal with the lower immigration tribunal. From then on it has been an incredible struggle to get any closure to the situation as I have indicated in a blog post about my recent interactions with the Upper Tribunal Immigration & Asylum Chamber.

The Home Homeless Office has held my passport for over a year while deciding on my immigration case. As a result, I cannot leave the country. I also do not have recourse to work during this period, unless I was hired to a job that pays over £20,000 and would be able to sponsor me. In these trying economic and employment times, it is incredibly difficult to find an employer so understanding and willing to take on the extra added burden of my immigration status.  Of course, just my luck, the Tories have instituted a new pay threshold for non-EU migrants, indicating that if after 6 years a non-EU migrant is not making a salary of above £35,000, we will face deportation. I already have enough problems finding jobs because of my immigration status; the added stress and burden of finding a position that has a salary that meets the Home Office requirement leaves me continually frazzled and frustrated.

Luckily, I have been incredible fortunate to have supporters and friends host me, which has kept me off the streets. However, with my present immigration status, even if I could afford to, renting a place would still be an absolute obstacle thanks to the present 2014 Immigration Act where the government has allowed private landlords to effectively be mini UKBA agents, giving them the right to check on a prospective tenant’s immigration status before allowing them to sign a rental contract. No doubt, the people that will be targeted for such intrusive and xenophobic immigration checks will be those who are already isolated in Tory Britain- people of color. It will also force already destitute asylum seekers and refugees further into street homelessness.

It is imperative that I be able to remain in the UK so that I can take on my final legal redress against the University of Leeds- a breach of contracts case. I have steadfastly maintained during the course of this campaign that non-EU international students should be given the same provisions as their British and EU counterparts in challenging institutional failings in a university. We should not have our immigration status hang over our heads like a noose around one’s head, constricting us from being able to challenge  malpractice and negligence within the British higher education system. If I  successfully win a breach of contracts case against the University of Leeds, as an non-EU international student, this would set a legal precedent that would benefit future generations of non-EU, EU, and British students alike.

Donating any spare coins will help pay for the maintenance of this campaign and allow me the ability to access and pay for urgent legal help that I desperately need at this very time.

Let’s work together to safeguard the rights of all students!


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About justice4sanaz

For 3 years, Sanaz Raji, a non-EU international student from the United States, has waged a fearless and brave fight against institutional aggression, bullying, and racism from the School of Media and Communication (formerly the Institution of Communications Studies) University of Leeds. The School of Media and Communication took away Sanaz's scholarship in August 2011, only 2 weeks before the start of her third year into her PhD studies. The School of Media and Communication breached their own procedures and rules concerning evaluating student progress. By taking away Sanaz's scholarship, the School of Media and Communication prevented her from continuing her studies in addition to having a decent standard of living with food and shelter that all students expect as a human right. In waging her battle for equal rights for non-EU international students, Sanaz was evicted from her university accommodation in May 2014, threatened with an ASBO (anti-social behavior order) and now fighting against deportation. All non-EU international students should have the right to challenge their universities for their failings without the threat of harassment or deportation. Justice4Sanaz is a movement to redress the failure of the student movement to discuss the myriad of ways that non-EU students, especially those who are people of color, are silenced, bullied and threatened within the neoliberal British university system.
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