Removal Proceedings/Immigration Court: Where to Start

What are Removal Proceedings?

Removal Proceedings means that the U.S. Government is seeking to remove you from the country.  Generally, you will receive a hearing notice through a letter in the mail.  The letter will provide the address for the Immigration Court as well as the date and time of the hearing.  When a notice to appear (NTA) is filed with the Immigration Court, this means that the government is outline the legal reasons why you should be removed from the United States.

What is going to happen at the hearing? Do you have to go? Do you need an attorney? What is going to happen at the end? Do you get to stay in the United States? These are all questions that can be answered by a qualified immigration attorney.

Removal Proceedings: Preliminary Hearings

The first kind of hearings are master calendar hearings.  There will be many people present and the judge will check with each person to see if they are represented by an attorney, what defenses they will be pursuing, and what the case status is. There will be an interpreter present to translate in case English is not your best language. If there are any deadlines, the Judge will make them clear. If you have an immigration attorney, she will be able to walk you through all of the steps and keep you informed of all hearings.

Removal Proceedings: Individual Hearings

Once all applications for relief are filed, the Immigration judge will schedule an individual hearing.  These hearings are scheduled a few months in advance to give you time to gather all supporting documents and prepare all witnesses in your case. At the hearing, you must present your case and demonstrate that according to legal standards, you qualify for the relief being sought. An experienced immigration attorney will identify weaknesses in the case and work to overcome them.

What happens next?

The Immigration Judge will either approve or deny the application.  If it is denied, you must appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals or you may have to leave the United States. An immigration attorney will be able to explain the process and keep you informed of any deadlines.

Do you need an attorney?

No, it is possible to represent yourself.  That being said, immigration attorneys are familiar with the removal proceedings and familiar with the legal defenses available.  Having an attorney can help ensure that you present the strongest case possible.

Steps to take when confronted with Removal Proceedings:

  • Gather information: Look for all of the documents that you have received that relate to immigration (including notices from USCIS) and put them together. Write down your history of travel in to and out of the United States. Write down your goals, questions and concerns.
  • Decide to fight and get help: Meet with an immigration attorney to assess your situation and see what options are available.  If you do not feel comfortable with the attorney or trust what they are telling you, get a second opinion. If you cannot afford an attorney, there are pro bono organizations that can help orient you. Once you know the options, you can decide on a strategy.
  • Go to your hearings! Even if you do not have an attorney, you MUST go to the hearing or else the Immigration Judge may order your removal in your absence.
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