For those who've been placed in removal proceedings, or even those who are subject to being removed from the US, there are a few basics that are essential for you to know.
It is important to have the benefit of excellent representation from an experienced attorney who can assist with advising you on the process, filing for relief, and preparing you for hearings among other things. Immigration Court removal proceedings are initiated with the Notice to Appear (often abbreviated, "NTA"). The NTA is served on the immigrant by the government and then (usually) filed with the Immigration Court. The filing of the NTA initiates the immigration court's jurisdiction. The NTA may or may not contain a definite date to report for a hearing. If no hearing date, then the Court should follow up with a Notice of Hearing to advise you when your first court date is scheduled.
Your first hearing before the United States immigration court is called the Master Calendar Hearing. At this hearing you will be asked certain questions by the immigration judge and/or the representative from the government Department of Homeland Security, known as the "trial attorney." The judge may ask you if you want to seek out and find competent counsel if you are unrepresented. If so, you may be given a brief time period called a "continuance" to seek and retain counsel. If you "waive" counsel and decide to proceed by yourself the judge will most likely ask you questions related to your NTA. The NTA contains two main parts: the factual allegations and charge(s) of removability. Generally, you should not admit the factual allegations nor should you concede any charge(s) before speaking with excellent counsel and/or understanding the allegations and charges against you.
Also at the Master Calendar Hearing, you will be provided several "advisals" which, among other things, advise you of the purported grounds of removability from the US, explain the NTA fully to you, and advise you have the right to provide evidence to the Court, cross-examine witnesses, and appeal any decisions made by the Court. Furthermore, the Court advises you of the danger and penalties involved with filing frivolous applications. The Court should also ask you which language you feel most comfortable speaking and being addressed, as well as which country you would like to designate as your country of removal if you choose to do so.
At the conclusion of the Master Calendar Hearing, the judge can ask you or your attorney for the form or forms of relief which you may want to assert in defense of deportation. Under the Doctrine of Apparent Eligibility, the Court is obligated to at least advise you of the basic types of relief which you appear to be eligible. It is important to be represented by excellent counsel because although the court is supposed to advise you there may actually be other forms of relief not identified by the court.
Between the Master Calendar Hearing and the merits or individual hearing you will be asked to submit applications for relief. In many cases it may take years to obtain an individual hearing. At this stage you or your attorney will be provided a cut-off date or dates by the court. If you miss these dates you may be found to have "abandoned" your relief and may be ordered removed from the US without a hearing. Your immigration attorney will help to prepare your applications, gather evidence, and navigate the intricate procedures of the immigration courts.
At the merits or individual hearing, you will have the burden to prove that you are eligible for and deserving of relief from deportation. Again an excellent attorney is an indispensable asset to have by your side. Your attorney can advise you about presenting evidence, proving your claim, calling potential witnesses, and your right to appeal. (In further blogs we will discuss appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals, as well as other types of removal proceedings from the US in which a person is not entitled to have his case reviewed before an immigration judge).
For further information about the immigration court see the Executive Office for Immigration Review website, which includes important details about the various courts around the country, statistics, and further information about the court.