10 Things to Know About Your Immigration Court Hearing
If the Department of Homeland Security has initiated Removal Proceedings against you, an Immigration Judge will preside over your case in Immigration Court and a government attorney will seek your removal from the U.S. The series of immigration hearings, collectively known as “immigration proceedings” can take several years and can include four or more court hearings. While appearing before a Judge in removal proceedings is often a stressful experience, understanding these 10 aspects of the process may ease one’s nerves:
1. The Notice to Appear (“NTA”) is Very Important
The NTA signals that you have been placed into removal proceedings and the U.S. government seeks to remove you from the U.S. The NTA will contain: your name, address and alien number; the date and location of your first hearing; and the charges against you. Show your NTA to your attorney and discuss the accuracy of the charges. The attorney can follow up with the court to determine whether the hearing will proceed as scheduled, or has been rescheduled, as is sometimes the case.
2. There are two Types of Immigration Hearings
There are two types of immigration court hearings: “Master” and “Individual” hearings. During the Master hearing(s), your attorney will address the charges against you and explain your defense, the Judge will discuss administrative issues, including scheduling, filing applications, and the confirmation of your address. During the Individual hearing(s) – which may last several hours – your case is presented to the court. The Judge usually issues an oral decision at the end of the Individual hearing.
3. Know where your Courtroom is located
For peace of mind, have a clear understanding of where parking, restrooms and the snack bar are. On the day of your hearing, there may be long lines and a crowded courtroom. Be sure you are not absent from the courtroom when your case is called by the Judge.
4. Timeliness is Important
At least once every few months, I witness an individual deported “in absentia” because he either could not find the courtroom or did not show up. Your attorney’s hands are tied if you are not present and the Judge will not hesitate to order your removal.
5. Courtroom Decorum
Some of this is common sense, but as a reminder, while in court you will want to be attentive and not speak out of turn. If addressed by the Judge, speak loud enough to ensure you are properly heard. Always address the Judge as “Your Honor”. For example: “Yes, that is the correct information, your honor”. If you are speaking through a court interpreter, you will want to speak at a pace that he or she can keep up with.
6. Do not Bring Unnecessary Objects into the Courthouse
Be sure not to bring chewing gum, food, pocket knives, weapons, or phones (unless turned off) into the courtroom. The presence of small children in court (unless listed in the NTA or relevant to the case) is generally not desired by most judges.
7. Items to Bring With you
Bring your NTA or hearing notice. Some courts will not allow you into the building without it. Bring any identifying or supporting documents important to your case, as instructed by your attorney.
8. You will Probably not be Detained
A common fear of clients in removal proceedings is that at the conclusion of a hearing, officers will apprehend, detain, and put them on the next airplane to their home country. This happens only in very rare cases where the subject is already in custody. If the Judge does order removal and appeals are not possible, the attorney can often negotiate for a dignified self-departure or voluntary departure from the U.S.
9. An Appeal is Possible
Hopefully the Judge finds in your favor. If not, an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Falls Church, Virginia can be presented within 30 days. With the proper filing of the appeal, an automatic stay of removal goes into effect—meaning you will not be removed while the appeal is pending. If the BIA agrees with the Judge and dismisses the appeal, in certain cases, the Respondent may seek review of the BIA’s decision at the US Circuit Court of Appeal.
10. Retain a Good Attorney
At each of your hearings, The Department of Homeland Security will provide an experienced attorney arguing for your removal from the United States, but your attorney should be better. Ask your attorney to explain to you your defense strategy, whether you are eligible for Work Authorization during proceedings, and the timeline for the case. It is very possible that your attorney has appeared in Court numerous times and possibly before the same judge handling your case. Make sure your attorney: 1) is licensed by a State Bar; 2) has handled court cases seeking your type of relief (Cancellation, Waiver, Asylum, NACARA, etc.); and 3) is able to answer all of your questions so that you have a good understanding of the courtroom proceedings.