Immigration Courts are a specialized system of courts that are dedicated
to immigration law cases throughout the United States. These courts are
run by the U. S. Department of Justice, and technically, are not courts
at all but rather, administrative bodies; they do not have juries. An
immigration judge decides whether you are removable and, if so, what relief
may be granted. The government is represented by an attorney from the
Department of Homeland Security. Each respondent has the right to be represented
by an attorney, but, unlike criminal courts, the government will not pay
for an attorney to represent you. If you wish to be represented, you are
solely responsible for retaining and paying your attorney.
To initiate removal/deportation proceedings, the government must first
issue a notice to appear (NTA). The NTA will state why the government
believes you are inadmissible or removable, the underlying facts which
support this charge, and the time and place you are to appear in immigration
court. Your first appearance will be at a master calendar hearing. This
hearing is solely to inform the court how you plan to proceed, whether
an attorney will be representing you, and whether you have any possible
form of relief. If you have not hired an attorney prior to the master
calendar hearing, you must still appear for the hearing, but may ask the
judge to give you time to hire an attorney before you respond to the charges
contained in the notice to appear.
If you submit an application for any form of relief from removal, such
as cancellation, asylum, or adjustment of status, the judge will schedule
your individual hearing. The individual hearing usually occurs several
months after the master calendar hearing. The individual hearing is your
opportunity to present witnesses and documents to support you application
for relief. It is very beneficial to have an immigration attorney represent
you at this hearing to submit briefs and make legal arguments in support
of your case. If your requested relief is granted, you will be allowed
to remain in the United States, sometimes even as a lawful permanent resident.
If your request is denied, the judge will order you removed from the United
States, but you will still have the opportunity to appeal the decision
and remain in the U.S. until the appeal is decided.
If you do not submit an application for relief from removal during the
master calendar hearing, you may be able to request voluntary departure
in lieu of having the court order your deportation or removal. If you
are granted voluntary departure at the beginning of your case, you will
likely be given 120 days to leave the United States.