This article was written by American Gateways. It provides a brief overview of what to expect if you are facing deportation proceedings. It is not a substitute for a lawyer's advice. If you are facing deportation, talk to an immigration lawyer.
Who is who in removal (deportation) proceedings?
There are three main parties involved in removal (deportation) proceedings: respondents, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and an immigration judge (IJ). Defendants in immigration proceedings are called respondents (you). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prosecutes, arrests, and detains respondents in deportation proceedings. Finally, immigration judges (IJ) decide whether respondents should remain in the United States or be removed (deported) to their countries.
What are the first steps in a removal (deportation) proceedings?
Respondents in removal (deportation) proceedings will be scheduled to appear before an immigration judge (IJ). The case begins with a charging document called a Notice to Appear, which states why the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) believes you have violated U.S. immigration laws. The date and time of your first hearing should be in the notice. If not, you will be notified by mail of the date and time of your hearing. Removal proceedings can be complicated, involving anywhere from three to ten hearings.
What if I am detained?
Removal (deportation) proceedings continue whether you are a detained or non-detained respondent. If DHS detained you and later released you after giving you a Notice to Appear, you may have to report periodically with DHS. In this case, you have the responsibility to do both, attend your immigration court hearings and reporting with DHS.
What are your responsibilities in removal (deportation) proceedings?
People in removal proceedings have several responsibilities, including:
- Go to your scheduled court hearings. If you don’t go to a hearing, you will be ordered removed in your absence. A warrant for your arrest will be issued. If you paid a bond, you will lose the bond money that you paid.
- If you have a scheduling conflict and believe that you cannot attend court (for example, because you or your child has surgery scheduled, because you are pregnant and cannot travel to court, etc.), ask permission in advance to postpone (“continue”) or reschedule the case.
- Asking for permission isn’t enough–you must actually get an order from the court with a new hearing notice to be excused from going to court. If you miss a hearing because of an accident, illness, or other unforeseen emergency, file a motion to reopen your case as soon as possible, but no later than 90 days after your hearing. The motion must include evidence as to why you were unable to attend (copy of medical records, a police report, etc.).
- Report any address change within five days using Form EOIR-33/IC. Since the immigration court sends notice of hearings by mail, it is extremely important that you change your address with the court each and every time that you move. You must send a copy of the form to the DHS as well.
- Follow deadlines that the judge gives you in your case. The judge may set a deadline to file an application, evidence, or other documentation in your case. Meet those deadlines. If you fail to turn something in on time, the judge could rule that you have abandoned your application and could order you removed.
- If DHS detained you and you were later released, you may also have to report periodically to a deportation officer at a pre-designated location. If you fail to report, DHS could arrest and detain you again. If you paid a bond, you will lose your bond money.
Is there a right to an attorney in removal (deportation) proceedings?
You have the right to an lawyer, but at no cost to the government. Usually, there is no right to a court-appointed lawyer. That means that if you want a lawyer, you hire one, or find a nonprofit organization that can represent you for free. Each court has a list of free legal service providers. Free legal service providers don’t have the resources to serve everyone in removal proceedings, so look for a lawyer as soon as possible. You may be put on a waiting list. If you can’t find a lawyer, you have the right to represent yourself in immigration court.
Only licensed attorneys or accredited representatives working for nonprofit organizations can represent you in removal proceedings. A notary public in the U.S. is not a lawyer and can’t represent people in immigration matters, or prepare immigration forms.
What are your rights in removal (deportation) proceedings?
- You have the right to communicate effectively in removal (deportation) hearings. If you do not speak English, the court will provide you an interpreter either by phone or in person. If you do not understand the interpreter, tell the judge immediately.
- You have the right to present testimony and evidence in your case. You can bring witnesses and documents to support your case. You can testify as a witness in your own case.
- You have the right to review all evidence presented by the DHS in your case. If the DHS presents evidence to the court, it must give you a copy. If the DHS offers witnesses, you have the right to questions those witnesses.
What can you expect when you go to court?
At every hearing, you can expect to see the immigration judge and a lawyer who represents the DHS. The DHS lawyer represents the government, and is the prosecutor for the case. The DHS lawyer is not there to help or represent you.
At the beginning of your case, the judge will put you under oath. The judge will ask you your name and what your best language is. If you don’t have a lawyer, the judge will advise you of your right to a lawyer, and might give you additional time to try to find a lawyer. The judge will ask you if you received a copy of the Notice to Appear.
The judge will require that you enter pleadings to the charges in the Notice to Appear. That means that you must answer whether the factual information is true or false, and whether you admit or deny that you have violated the immigration laws. If the judge finds that you have violated immigration laws and could be removed (deported), you must tell the judge if you are applying for relief from removal.
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