In the United States, immigration court hearings/proceedings are CIVIL, not criminal. ⚖️ The court proceedings in Immigration Court are “removal proceedings.”
Removal proceedings hearings take place in accordance with the rules and procedures of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The EOIR is a component of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Immigration court hearings typically split into two main phases. There is The Master Calendar Hearing and the Individual Hearing (also known as a merits hearing or removal hearing).
Let’s delve into each of these hearings in detail
Master Calendar Hearing
Purpose: The Master Calendar Hearing serves as an introductory administrative hearing in immigration court. Its primary purpose is to introduce the parties to each other, summarize the legal issues ahead in your case, and to address administrative and procedural matters for multiple people’s cases simultaneously, including scheduling, filing documents, and identifying the issues of each case. You will be one of multiple people appearing on the day of the Master Calendar Hearing in front of the judge.
Key Elements of the Master Calendar Hearing
At the outset of the Master Calendar Hearing, the immigration judge (IJ) will schedule future court dates for each case. This includes setting dates for Individual Hearings, bond hearings, and any other necessary proceedings.
The IJ will identify a few people. These people are: the respondent facing removal, the respondent’s attorney, if any, and the government attorney (usually representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE).
3️⃣➡️Charges and Applications
The IJ may review the charges against the respondent and any applications for relief from removal (e.g., asylum, cancellation of removal) during the court hearing. This will determine the relevant immigration issues for subsequent hearings.
The IJ may inquire about the respondent’s legal representation. If the respondent does not have (but qualifies for) an immigration attorney, the IJ may provide information about legal resources.
If necessary, the IJ may grant continuances to allow respondents more time. This time can be spent preparing their cases, gathering evidence, or securing legal representation for the court.
The IJ will inform the respondent of their rights. These include: the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, and the consequences of future hearing appearnace failure.
The IJ will also ensure that language interpreters are provided if the respondent does not speak English or lacks fluency.
Your Master Calendar hearing will begin with your lawyer checking you in with the judge’s clerk. The clerk will give you a palce in line for the immigration judge to call the court hearing. They usually call people by name and the last 3 digits of your alien number. If you have a spouse and kids, they will called along with you. One family member will be the LEAD respondent, and the spouse and children are derivatives.
When it’s your turn, the judge will confirm your names, address and phone numbers. You must notify the court if you plan to move within ten days by filing a special blue form EOIR-33. They will ask if your lawyer is indeed your attorney. They will ask your preferred language or dialect, and whether you will need a government interpreter for your Individual Hearing.
Under current rules, most new removal proceedings cases have electronic folders. There, your lawyer will upload your forms and evidence before the hearing. Both the judge and the government attorney will be seeing these at the time of your Master Calendar Hearing.
After completing initial “housekeeping” procedural questions, the judge will ask you about a document from ICE called a Notice to Appear (“NTA”). They will ask if you have reviewed your charges there. The NTA will state when and where you entered the U.S. and what status you entered with.
Then, it will state that you overstayed your status or did not have the legal status. The judge and the government attorney will designate your home country or another country you are a citizen of. That would be the country of removal (in case they deport you).
Finally, your attorney will discuss what applications for relief (defense from deportation) you have. As an example, if you are asking for Asylum, Withholding of Removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture, discuss any legal questions in your case. At that point, the judge will schedule your Individual/Merits Hearing for you and set up deadlines for submitting all your supporting evidence (paperwork in your case). In certain situations, Master Calendar hearings may be adjourned or continued to a different date. That takes place if your case isn’t yet ready for scheduling an Individual Hearing. This occurs when there are outstanding issues that need to be resolved before proceeding further.
After the Master Calendar Hearing, you will receive a notice of the next hearing.
Individual Hearing (Merits Hearing)
Purpose: The Individual Hearing is a more substantive and formal hearing. Here, the immigration judge considers the merits of the case for immigration court. This is the stage where the respondent presents evidence and arguments to support their claim for relief from removal. In addition, the government attorney may present counterarguments.
1️⃣➡️Witnesses and Evidence
The respondent and government may present witnesses, documents, and other evidence in immigration court hearings to support their respective positions. This may include testimonies, affidavits, country condition reports, and expert witnesses.
Both parties may make legal arguments and cite relevant immigration laws, regulations, and precedents to support their case.
Each party has the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses presented by the opposing side in court. This would challenge their credibility or the veracity of their statements.
Both parties typically conclude the Individual Hearing with closing statements summarizing their positions and why the judge should rule in their favor.
The immigration judge will issue a decision, either immediately after the hearing or at a later date, based on the evidence presented, the law, and the merits of the case as presented in the immigration court hearing. The decision can include orders of removal, grants of relief, or termination of proceedings, among other outcomes.
At the Individual Hearing, you will be alone and this is your time to present your case to the court. You will be present with your lawyer and the government interpreter and across from you will sit the government attorney. Your lawyer may choose to make an opening statement. Your lawyer will then review with you your story and ask you questions under oath, ask you questions about your paperwork, and ask you and your witnesses questions pertaining to proving your relief.
Then, the government attorney will cross-examine you, i.e. ask you questions to show you lied or gave incomplete information and therefore show the judge you do not deserve your relief. The government’s attorney will want to confuse you or trip you up. They try to prove to the judge the necessity of your removal/deportation. At the end of your testimony, your witnesses’ testimony and after closing statements from both sides, the judge will make a decision – either denying your relief and ordering you removed or granting it via a written order. It could be issued the same day or at a future date.
It’s important to note that immigration court proceedings can be complex, and the specific process may vary depending on the type of relief sought and the circumstances of the case.
Additionally, respondents have the right to appeal an immigration judge’s decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) if they disagree with the outcome of the court hearing. The BIA is the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws.
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