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Immigration court and deportation

Immigration court removal proceedings are administrative court proceedings to determine if an alien (foreign citizen) is removable/deportable from the US and to determine if the respondent alien is eligible for relief/protection from being deported under immigration laws.  

Both new immigrants and old, as well as lawful permanent residents, can end up in removal proceedings.  A person placed in removal proceedings is called a “Respondent.”

Immigration Courts are part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and immigration judges work for EOIR.  

Removal proceedings are started by officers of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS ICE) by a special document served upon the alien respondent called Notice to Appear (“NTA”).  Removal proceedings are decided (adjudicated) by immigration judges. 

The NTA is an administrative charging document or a summons, similar to a summons in civil cases. 

The NTA states the government’s charges against the alien respondent and tells the court that the alien is removable (should be deported), naming the country of removal.  The alien has a right to be represented by an attorney of his/her choosing, but the court is not under obligation to give the alien free attorney representation. The alien must hire his own lawyer.

Master calendar hearings – initial procedural hearings

  • The first court hearing in immigration court proceedings is called the Master Calendar Hearing or Master Hearing, and it is a procedural hearing where the alien must review the NTA with the judge and “plead” to the charges, i.e. tell the immigration judge if the charges are true. 
  • The alien pleads to the NTA charges by either admits or denies the charges and his removability at the first Master Calendar  Hearing.  
  • The immigration judge will ask you to confirm your current full and correct address.
  • The alien also must name his best language to the judge for the purpose of holding his hearings in his native language.
  • The government will designate the country of removal for the alien (in case the alien loses the case and must be deported). The country of removal is usually the country for which the alien holds citizenship or where he was born, but there are exceptions.
  • The court will ask the alien what “Relief” or defense from removal the Alien is seeking. 
  • Depending on the type of case, the alien respondent may ask for the court for Asylum, Withholding of Removal, Convention Against Torture relief, Cancellation of Removal or adjustment of status, amongst others. 
  • To ask for any relief, the respondent must file an original Application for relief requested with the court, and file a copy with the ICE Attorney (called Trial Attorney).
  • The respondent’s opponent in immigration court proceedings is the ICE Trial Attorney (called Assistant Chief Counsel to ICE DHS).
  • ICE’s position is always that the alien is removable and should be deported to his native country.  
  • Officially, the burden of proof of removability is on ICE, but in reality, the burden to prove that they SHOULD NOT be deported to their native country is on the alien respondent and the alien has a right to present evidence, documents and witnesses to prove eligibility for relief/defense from deportation. 
  • Once the court determines that everything for removability and relief is submitted, the court will designate a date and time during which the alien respondent has to prove the relief and ICE has a chance to prove their position on removability.  This final hearing is called the Individual Hearing. 

There may be multiple Master Calendar hearings in your case.   

What is an individual hearing?

  • The individual hearing is a trial of your case. This is when the immigration judge will hear all the details of your case and take your testimony, review your evidence, and hear your witnesses. You can submit background reports and country condition reports, and even news articles about your case and tell the judge how these relate to you personally.
  • The individual hearing is sometimes called a Merits Hearing.
  • The court must receive all your documents on or before 60 days prior to the Individual Hearing, your trial.
  • To show good moral character, the respondent should submit tax transcripts of all the tax returns filed since coming to U.S.
  • You and your attorney should prepare your testimony in chronological order, but also be prepared to jump from one place to another in your personal statement or case supporting statements and go over all the evidence.
  • Your attorney may negotiate with the ICE attorney to see if they will agree to settle the case and agree to your relief, but the chances of their agreeing are quite low.
  • The judge may also occasionally offer to let you rest on your record, which means that you documented your case well and you are credible/believable and the judge is willing to skip your testimony altogether.
  • The Individual Hearing usually lasts between 1 and 4 hours. 
  • You may receive your decision at the end of the hearing or the judge may ask you to return for the decision on another date.
  • At the end, you will receive a written decision (Order) of the Immigration Judge either granting your relief (Asylum, Withholding of Removal, Convention Against Torture protection, Cancellation of Removal, Waiver of Inadmissibility, or Adjustment of Status) or denying it, with a written explanation and time to appeal.
  • Immigration court decisions may be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals by either the respondent or ICE.
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