What Happens During a Deportation Hearing?

Facing deportation is frightening and anxiety-producing for you and your loved ones. A deportation hearing provides you with the legal opportunity to fight back against your removal, but the process can sometimes feel overwhelming and confusing. A knowledgeable immigration attorney can explain how deportation hearings work, what you can expect, and how to proceed if you don’t get the desired outcome.

How Do I Know When I’m Required to Go to Immigration Court?

If the government begins deportation proceedings against you because they believe you have violated immigration laws, they must notify you of your court hearings.

The two documents you should receive by mail are:

  • A Notice to Appear (NTA): This document contains vital information about your case, including an explanation of the proceedings, your rights regarding hiring legal representation, and why the government believes it has grounds to remove you from the country. It may provide information on where and when your initial hearing will occur, or this may come in a separate letter.
  • A Notice of Hearing in Removal Proceedings: This letter tells you the date, time, and place of your hearing. Note this information carefully because a failure to appear has severe consequences and may result in automatic removal. The hearing’s date and time can sometimes change after this letter is sent, so it is critical to follow the instructions detailing how to call and check the latest information regarding your hearing.

What Are the Two Types of Deportation Hearings?

As a non-citizen, you have the right to defend yourself against the government’s attempt to remove you from the country. During deportation proceedings, you will need to appear at two different hearings, which serve distinct purposes.

Master Calendar Hearing

A master calendar hearing is your initial hearing before the immigration court. During this short hearing, you will be called before the immigration judge to respond to the charges against you. If you are defending yourself against your removal, you will briefly explain your defense. Common defenses include eligibility for asylum, a valid marriage to a US citizen, or the cancellation of your removal. An immigration lawyer can help you decide which defense(s) apply to your specific situation and can begin filing the necessary applications on your behalf.

There is typically no decision made on your case during the master calendar hearing because it is a preliminary hearing. At the end, your judge will likely inform you of the date for your merits hearing, which is the next step in the process.

Merits Hearing

During your merits hearing also known as an “individual hearing”, you or your attorney will present your defense and explain why you should not be removed from the US. This hearing may take more than one court date, depending on the complexity of your case. To support your defense, you will need to have submitted prior to your court date documentary evidence and at your court date you will present testimonial evidence from yourself, character witnesses and expert witnesses.

Many individuals choose to testify about their circumstances and why they should be allowed to remain in the US. The government attorney from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration Judge will also have the right to ask you questions if you testify. Your lawyer can help you prepare for this testimony and potential questions you could face so you can feel confident in your responses. If you wish to have an interpreter for these proceedings, you may request one.

Once both sides have presented their evidence and legal arguments, the immigration judge will take time to review the case to make their determination. The judge may tell you their decision immediately after the hearing or provide the determination in writing at a later date if they wish to have more time to consider.

What if You Miss Your Hearing?

Any deportation hearing is a serious legal event, and you should make every effort to be present and prepared for your day in court. If an emergency causes you to miss your hearing, such as a severe illness of yourself or a close family member or a domestic violence incident, you must contact your attorney promptly. If the immigration judge issues an order for your removal in your absence, you must petition the court to reopen your case within 90 days and provide proof of the emergency you experienced, such as medical records or a police report.

What Can You Do if the Immigration Judge Orders Your Removal?

You may feel extremely upset and disheartened if the judge orders your removal, but this does not have to be the end of your case. Your lawyer has 30 days to appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which can reconsider your case.

If the BIA upholds your removal, you may still have the option to bring the matter to a federal court for another opinion.

Are You Required to Have a Lawyer for Your Deportation Hearing?

You are not required to have a lawyer to represent you in immigration court, but it is highly recommended. Due to the complexity of this process, it is vital to have the support of an experienced deportation defense attorney who can help you navigate the legal system and ensure you understand your rights and responsibilities. Unlike criminal court, where public defenders can be appointed, immigration court will not provide you with an attorney. You must obtain legal services on your own. If you have questions or concerns about seeking skilled legal representation, contact our office today to speak with a compassionate immigration lawyer: 678-853-7402.