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Immigration Court: What Does a Notice of Hearing Mean in Removal Proceedings?

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September 28, 2022

Key Takeaways

A notice of hearing in removal proceedings is a document that informs you about an immigration hearing that’s been scheduled. These hearings relate to the government’s attempt to deport you from the United States. This article explains what this notice means and what you can expect during a removal proceeding. This includes a discussion of the types of immigration hearings you may encounter and their importance in fighting your deportation.

Table of Contents

What Is a Notice of Hearing in Removal Proceedings?

You may receive two types of important notices from the U.S. immigration court:

  • Notice of Hearing in a Removal Proceeding
  • Notice to Appear (NTA)

The Notice of Hearing in a Removal Proceeding provides the hearing date, time, and place where a judge will determine if authorities should remove you from the United States. You should read the notice carefully and make sure you understand it, especially any request to appear in immigration court. If you do not understand it, talk to someone who does and can clearly explain it to you.

It is common to receive both notices at the same time. As the respondent, you shouldn’t ignore these notices since they typically apply to deportation proceedings that affect your immigration status. A hearing may still be held in your absence. If you move, make sure that you report your change of address to USCIS to ensure you receive these or other notices.

What Is a Notice to Appear?

The second type of notice is a Notice to Appear (Form I-862). It will have the heading “In Removal Proceedings under Section 240 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues NTAs to start removal proceedings under federal law. A Notice to Appear is a legal charging document. The NTA will contain DHS’s claim that a noncitizen is illegally present in the United States in violation of federal law. You can face a charge of inadmissibility or a charge of removability.

  • If a person has not been lawfully admitted to the United States, they are typically charged as inadmissible under federal law.
  • If you had a legal right to be in the U.S., but something about your circumstances has changed, you may be charged as removable.

The NTA will claim one of the following three circumstances related to your presence in the United States:

  1. You are an arriving alien.
  2. You are an alien present in the United States who has not been admitted or paroled.
  3. You are present in the United States but are removable for the reasons stated.

If the third option is checked on the NTA, it will usually state that you are not a U.S. citizen and list your country of citizenship. It may then list where you illegally entered the country and that you did not possess a valid immigrant visa, reentry permit, border crossing identification card, or other valid entry document required by U.S. immigration law.

What Should I Expect at a Removal Proceeding?

If the government believes that you do not have a valid immigration status or that you have done something to invalidate your immigration status, you may be subject to a removal proceeding.

When an immigration court issues an NTA and Notice of Hearing in Removal Proceedings, two types of removal hearings may follow:

  • A master hearing
  • An individual hearing

The hearing notice will indicate the type of hearing you need to appear for. There’s also a third type of hearing you may request if you are detained and subject to a bond for release. This is called a bond hearing.

At your removal hearing, the government will present the evidence it has that you should be removed for failing to maintain your nonresident status. For example, you may have dropped out of school and lost your status as a student legally present in the country. If you are a permanent resident, the government may present evidence, such as a criminal conviction, that make you removable.

While the government must provide a reason for your removal, if you fail to appear at a hearing, the immigration court will likely grant your removal. If you move, you should always update your address with USCIS to make sure you receive all notices from the U.S. Immigration Court.

What Is a Bond Hearing?

If the Department of Homeland Security detains you, you may be released from custody by paying a bond in certain circumstances. The bond amount is set by the DHS. You can request a bond hearing with the immigration court. At this hearing, the immigration judge can change the bond amount.

Bond proceedings are separate from removal proceedings. If you are detained, you may want to consult with an experienced immigration attorney. Being detained affects your freedom during the crucial time you need to gather evidence to avoid being removed.

What Is a Master Hearing?

After you receive your NTA, the first hearing that you will attend is the master calendar hearing. The master hearing is where the DHS first states that it will prove the allegations and charges that are listed on the NTA.

There may be more than one master hearing in your case. If the government fails to show any likelihood that it can prove your inadmissibility, the court may dismiss the removal proceeding. For example, if your status is challenged, you could present your green card to the court as proof that you are legally in the country.

The master hearing will allow you to give the court a summary of your argument to remain in the United States. This includes telling the court about any applications for immigration benefits you plan to submit. The master hearing also allows you to ask for more time if necessary to find legal representation.

Can I Get Deported at My Master Hearing?

At this hearing, an immigration judge will ask you to admit or deny the charges listed on the NTA. The court rarely issues an order to remove or deport anyone at a master hearing. It will set a date for your next hearing and send you a written notice. The next hearing may be another master hearing if there are any other preliminary matters that need to be finished before the individual hearing. Failure to appear at a master hearing, or any scheduled hearing, may result in removal from the U.S. or losing the right to defend yourself against the removal.

What Happens During an Individual Hearing?

If you are eligible to file an application for an immigration status that allows you to stay in the United States, you will have an individual hearing. This type of hearing is like a court trial. It determines whether the government will remove you from the country. It is also known as a merit hearing.

This hearing will decide whether you can stay in the United States. The government will present its proof that you are in the country illegally. You can then raise your defenses. It may take more than one individual hearing for both sides to present their evidence and the court to call each witness.

What To Do Before the Individual Hearing

You will not have an attorney provided free of cost in these proceedings. You must hire an immigration attorney or find help from a volunteer attorney advocate. An attorney can help organize and prepare your case for the hearing.

Before this hearing, you need to do two things:

  • Complete and submit an immigration application
  • Identify your grounds for staying in the U.S. and provide documents that support your position

You can only ask for an individual hearing if you are eligible to file an application for some form of relief (an immigration status that allows you to stay in the U.S.). An attorney with experience handling immigration cases can help you figure out if you’re eligible to file an application to remain in the United States.

What To Do at the Individual Hearing

The individual hearing is your chance to present your side of the story and your defenses to the government’s claims. You are presenting your best argument as to why the government should not deport you from the United States.

The hearing will begin with the immigration judge reviewing all documents that were submitted to the court, including your application. The judge will ask whether either party — you or the government — need to add or correct anything on the record.

Next, you will be sworn in as a witness and give testimony in an “examination.” This is when your attorney, if you have one, will ask you questions. The judge may also ask questions. After your attorney questions you, the DHS’s attorney will ask questions. The judge can interrupt to ask questions or seek clarification during this time. After this, you get one more chance to question the witnesses so you can clarify anything that’s necessary.

As mentioned throughout this article, know your court date! If you fail to appear at this hearing, you risk getting deported.

Present Your Defenses to Deportation

This is the time to present any defenses to deportation. Potential defenses include that you are not deportable as charged. This means that the government misstated the facts or misapplied the law to the facts.

If you never received the NTA, you would have a defense based on improper service. If you are in the process of seeking asylum and you would or are likely to face persecution if forced to return to your home country, you can also use this as a defense.

If you are in the country illegally, but you are in the process of applying to be a lawful permanent resident, you may face removal proceedings if your pending adjustment of status application is missing something. If you meet certain conditions, you can get a cancellation of removal where the judge will adjust your status to lawfully admitted for permanent residence.

If you are a DACA recipient and the government is arguing that you should be removed for committing a crime, you may be able to argue that the crime is not of the type that should cause deportation.

Call Witnesses and Give a Final Statement

Next, the court will call witnesses who will be examined by both attorneys. At the conclusion of all witnesses testifying, you will be given an opportunity to make a final statement regarding your eligibility to remain in the country. The DHS will also have an opportunity to make a final statement of the government's argument to deny your application.

What Happens After an Immigration Court Hearing?

Once both parties make their final statements at your individual hearing, the judge may issue an oral decision at this time or issue a written decision later. If you disagree with this decision, you have 30 days to file an appeal in writing to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in most cases.

If the judge makes an oral decision, the court will send a summary of this decision to you. It is important to make sure that you receive a copy of this written summary, especially if you decide to appeal your case or file a motion regarding the judge's decision.

If you receive an unfavorable decision, don’t waive your right to appeal. You always want the option to reopen your case since it is common to win cases on appeal, if not at the BIA level, then later at the federal court level.

The DHS may also file a "reserve appeal" within 30 days. It may also agree to a waiver of its right to appeal. Once the 30-day period passes without the filing of an appeal by either party, the judge’s decision becomes final.

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