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Immigration Court Overview

Immigration Court Overview

Going to Immigration Court can be overwhelming and confusing. The Department of Homeland Security, a division of the United States Government, is trying to deport you.  Below is an explanation of immigration court proceedings across the country.

You were initially given a document called a Notice to Appear. This document was either mailed to you or it was hand delivered to you by an officer. This document states why you should be deported from the United States. It is like a charging document in criminal proceedings and you must make a plea to the allegations and the charges of deportation.

Talk to an Attorney FIRST

It is important to consult with an attorney for possible immigration benefits and to see how to present your case to the judge. Immigration proceedings are very formal and complicated. It is very difficult for someone who is not a lawyer to be successful in immigration court. The Government does not want to help you and will not help you stay in the United States. You must convince the judge that you should be granted the immigration benefit as a matter of law and of discretion. This is very difficult to do.

Hearing #1 - Master Calendar Hearing

At your first hearing, called a master calendar hearing, you will have to tell the judge what you want to do. This is not the time to tell your story or explain what happened. At this hearing, you must either ask for an attorney or make a plea to the allegations and charges of deportability. It is always wise to hire an attorney to review your Notice to Appear. If you ask for an attorney, the judge will give you time to retain one and will continue your case to another day. Remember that if you hire an attorney, you must pay for one. The Government does not pay for you to have an attorney. If you plea to the allegations in the Notice to Appear, the judge will continue your case again to another day if you have a way to stay in the United States.

You may have several master calendar hearings depending on the type of immigration benefit you are seeking and also the flow of your case. It may take years before you get to present your case in front of the judge and be granted an immigration benefit.

Final Hearing - Individual or Hearing on the Merits

Your last hearing in front of the judge is called an Individual hearing or a Hearing on the Merits. This is where you get to present your entire case and ask for the immigration benefit you are seeking. It will be up to the judge whether you are granted the immigration benefit you asked for. The judge must follow the law and has discretion whether to grant your case.

Immigration Judge Decision

The immigration laws allow for immigration judges to deny an application based on a lack of good moral character. This is the most common reason an immigration judge denies a person an immigration benefit. The most common reasons why an immigration judge denies an application based on a lack of good moral character are criminal records, not paying taxes, lying to an immigration official, or finding a person's testimony incredible.

How Long Does the Process Take?

If you are in immigration proceedings, and are not being detained by immigration, you will not be deported upon going to court for the first time. It takes time for the judge to make a decision on your case and many times it takes years to get a decision. When the judge makes his decision, he may make an oral decision the day of your hearing or he may send a written decision later.

 Attendance – Go to EVERY Court Date

It is very important that you go to every hearing date. If you miss a hearing date, the Government will order you removed from the United States. Once an Order of Removal is entered against you, it is very  difficult to undo it. An Order of Removal is effective immediately and allows the Government to pick you up at any time, day or night, and deport you.

If you have children you should leave them at home unless they are part of the case.

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