Immigration Court Hearings

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immigration court hearings

I’ve just received a Notice to Appear (NTA) telling me I am in removal proceedings. What can I expect at the Immigration Court?

The Notice to Appear (NTA) is the charging document which places a non-US citizen into removal proceedings (formerly called “deportation” proceedings). The document contains a list of “charges,” in other words, the accusation as to why the non-citizen is deportable from the United States.

In the Immigration Court context, a non-US citizen facing deportation is called an “alien” or a “respondent.”

If you have received an NTA, it is essential that you speak to a qualified immigration deportation lawyer, so that you can be best prepared to defend your case in Immigration Court.

What is the difference between a master calendar and an individual calendar hearing?

Under most circumstances, the first time you go to Immigration Court, you will be attending a Master Calendar hearing. It is similar to an “arraignment” in the criminal court context. It is a preliminary hearing, and the most noticeable thing is that there are many respondents there, not just you. Essentially, the Court is doing preliminary hearings for many respondents. When your case is called, you and your lawyer will go before the Judge. A lawyer for the Government, whose job it is to prosecute your case, will also be there. They are more formally known as Trial Attorneys, or Assistant Chief Counsels.

Much of what occurs is recorded. Your lawyer will reply to the charges against you. Under most circumstances, you will not be speaking or testifying at all during the master calendar hearing. Often, applications for relief are handed in, and if appropriate, the Court will schedule the case for an individual hearing. At the master calendar hearing, the Court will also set any deadlines for submission of documents. Sometimes, if there is reason to postpone the matter, or if the Court wants to give a respondent time to prepare an application for immigration relief (such as an application for asylum), the Court will adjourn the case to another master calendar hearing.

An individual hearing is your final trial. During your individual hearing, it’s just your case. The prosecutor and the Judge are there, as well as your attorney and any witnesses you have called.

It is absolutely essential that you keep in touch with your attorney at all times, to make sure that any important documents are served in a timely fashion prior to your individual hearing.

What if I am not fluent in English? Does the Court provide interpreters?

Currently, the Immigration Court provides interpreters in many languages for individual hearings. For most master calendar hearings, interpreters are not used, because you are not testifying. (There are exceptions to this, but this is the general practice).

When will the Judge make his or her decision?

The Immigration Judge can either make their decision on the same day as the individual hearing, or they can set the matter over for a decision-only hearing. Under some circumstances, although quite uncommon, the Court may write a decision and send it to your immigration lawyer and the Government attorney.

If your case is not granted, under most circumstances, you have the right to appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). No appeal is possible if the parties agree to an outcome (similar to a plea agreement in criminal court). If an immigration appeal is pursued, there are strict deadlines that must be followed.

The team at Lightman Law Firm has over thirty years of combined experience in the field of immigration law, including trying cases before the Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). If you have been placed into removal / deportation proceedings, give us a call to schedule a face-to-face consultation, at (212) 643-0985.