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 removals, 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 your 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.