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Facing Deportation? Here's What You Need to Know.

Immigration Laws & Rights

This is a brief overview of what to expect if you face deportation proceedings.

Here, learn about deportation proceedings—in particular, your rights and responsibilities. Understand the first steps, what to do if you are detained, reporting requirements, and the importance of meeting deadlines in deportation proceedings.

This is not a substitute for a lawyer's advice. If you are facing deportation, talk to an immigration lawyer.

Who is who in removal 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 removal 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 to DHS. In this case, you have the responsibility to do both, attend your immigration court hearings, and report to DHS.

What are your responsibilities in removal proceedings?

People in removal proceedings have several responsibilities, including:

  1. 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 would lose the bond money 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 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, an illness, or other unforeseen emergencies, 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 of why you could not attend (a copy of medical records, a police report, etc.).
  2. Report any address change within five days using Form EOIR-33/IC.  Since the immigration court sends notice of hearings by mail, it is crucial that you change your address with the court every time you move. You must send a copy of the form to the DHS as well.
  3. Follow the 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.
  4. 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 proceedings?

You have the right to a lawyer, but at no cost to the government. Usually, there is no right to a court-appointed lawyer. If you want a lawyer, hire one or find a nonprofit organization to 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 can 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 proceedings?

  1. You have the right to communicate effectively in removal (deportation) hearings. If you do not speak English, the court will provide you with an interpreter either by phone or in person. If you do not understand the interpreter, tell the judge immediately.              
  2. 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.
  3. 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 question those witnesses.
  4. If the judge makes a decision you disagree with, you have the right to file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals

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. 

The judge will put you under oath at the beginning of your case. 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 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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