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Guide for Detained Immigrants

Immigration Laws & Rights

This article by Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services provides general information to help you figure out if you qualify for relief from deportation.

Learn about the deportation (“removal”) process, your rights in the deportation process, and potential defenses to deportation. 

When are you being deported?

You have likely been placed in removal proceedings—commonly known as deportation proceedings—if you:

  • Are stopped or held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or some other federal law enforcement agency, and
  • Will be sent before an immigration judge to determine:
    • Whether you can stay in the United States, or
    • If you must return to your native country.

Many people call this process “deportation.” It can take weeks, months, or even years. While you fight your case, ICE may detain you. This overview is for people who have been detained.

What is the Notice to Appear (NTA)?

Anyone facing removal proceedings should be served with a Notice to Appear (NTA) (click here for an example). The NTA is typically two to four pages long. It lists the reasons why the government says that you should be removed (deported) from the U.S. The NTA contains allegations and the charges against you.

The allegations are the facts about you that the government believes to be true. They form the basis for the charges against you. The first allegation is likely to be that you’re not a U.S. citizen. A second likely allegation is that you were born in your native country. Typically, there are at least four allegations. Review each of the factual allegations carefully. You will tell the judge whether the allegations are true or false.

If you don’t have a copy of your NTA, contact your assigned ICE Deportation Office so that they can give you a copy. If you hire a lawyer, he or she needs a copy of the NTA.

Anyone who isn’t a U.S. citizen could face removal proceedings. If you are not a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or U.S. citizen, you could face removal proceedings for violating one of the conditions of your permission to be in the U.S. (for example, working without permission, overstaying your visa, or committing a crime), or for having entered the U.S. without permission. If you are an LPR, you may face deportation for committing certain crimes.

What are the types of removal hearings?

There are two types of hearings in removal proceedings: master calendar hearings and individual hearings.

Master calendar hearing

Your first hearing will always be a master calendar hearing. You might have several master calendar hearings. Master Calendar hearings are status conference hearings, or chances to share preliminary information with the judge so that the judge can decide how your case will move forward. During the first master calendar hearing, the judge will explain the charges brought against you, and tell you your rights. The judge will ask whether you agree or disagree with each allegation and charge in the NTA.

You have the right to a lawyer throughout removal proceedings—but the government won’t provide you with a lawyer, or pay for one. If, at your first master calendar hearing, you still haven’t been able to hire a lawyer, ask the judge for more time to find one.

Individual hearing

The second type of hearing is an individual hearing. During an individual hearing, your case is the only one scheduled. Before the hearing, you (or your lawyer) will submit evidence (in the form of documents) that you want the judge to consider when reviewing your application.

The judge will allot several hours to consider your application for relief (that is, the benefit that you think you qualify for that would let you stay in the U.S., if granted). During the hearing, witnesses may testify for you. The witnesses’ testimony and the type of evidence you submit depend on what kind of application you submitted (that is, the benefit you are seeking).

Several things can happen at the end of the individual hearing. If the judge needs more evidence or testimony, another individual hearing or a later master calendar hearing may be scheduled. If the judge needs time to consider the evidence and testimony, they might issue a written decision later, rather than announce their decision at the end of the hearing.

Finally, if the judge decides, they may announce the decision at the end of the individual hearing. If the judge announces a decision at the end of the hearing, you should get a one-page “Summary Oral Decision.” But, if the judge plans to decide later, that decision will likely be several pages long, with the reasoning behind the decision explained in detail.

How do you appeal a deportation decision?

Once the judge makes a decision in a deportation proceeding, you and the government both have the right to appeal, if either of you disagrees with the judge’s decision. For example, if the judge grants you asylum (which would give you permission to stay in the U.S.), but the government disagrees that you met the requirements to be granted asylum, then the government can appeal.

If you disagree with the judge’s decision, tell the judge that you reserve your right to appeal. If either side reserves the right to appeal, the judge’s decision isn’t final. Make sure the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in Virginia receives your appeal within 30 days of the decision. Typically, the judge will indicate the date by which the appeal must be received on the written decision (either the Summary Oral Decision, or cover page of the Written Decision). If there is no date, assume that the appeal must be received no later than 30 days from the date on the cover page of the written decision.

To appeal, complete Form EOIR-26, Notice of Appeal from a Decision of an Immigration Judge. State why you think that the judge made the wrong decision.

Appeals for people in detention can take months. After filing your appeal, you will get a transcript of your hearings. Also, you can file a brief in support of your appeal. A brief is a detailed document in which you explain the law, and why you argue that you meet the requirements established by law. The BIA will notify you of its decision by mail.

Do I have the right to a bond in a deportation case?

In a criminal case, every person has a right to bond. In immigration court, bond is not available to everyone. Some people are subject to mandatory detention due to a criminal conviction. In immigration court, bond is money paid to the government in return for your release from detention, as a guarantee that you will attend all your court hearings and obey the judge’s final order. If you are released on bond, it doesn’t end your immigration case. It just means you don’t have to be detained while waiting for court hearings.

If you have a bond, but can’t afford to pay it, ask the judge to reduce it. You can also ask the judge for a bond if you don’t already have one. To ask the judge for a bond, or to reduce your bond, file a Motion for Bond Hearing (which you can most likely find at a law library). At your bond hearing, you will be asked to submit certified court documents regarding your criminal history, and proof:

  • of the address where you will live if released;
  • of the immigration status of the person who lives there; and
  • that you qualify for relief.

If you have a bond, you can pay it at any point until you have a final decision on your case from the judge.

If I've been deported before, can I still ask for bond and go to immigration court?

If you have ever been deported before, you won’t be allowed to see an immigration judge again, or ask for a bond. Your previous removal (deportation) order will be reinstated, or used against you to deport you again. Also, if you have already signed a deportation order, you won’t be allowed to see an immigration judge or ask for a bond. If you were caught at a port of entry (like an international bridge or airport), or caught crossing the border illegally, you might have been given a removal order.

If you aren’t sure if any of the above apply to you, ask your deportation officer for a copy of your removal order, or your Notice to Appear (NTA) if you don’t have a removal order.

Nonetheless, if any of the above circumstances apply, other forms of relief listed below may be available:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • VAWA relief for victims of domestic violence
  • T & U nonimmigrant status/visas
  • Asylum, Withholding of Removal & Convention Against Torture (CAT)
  • NACARA (Form I-881)

However, if there is a removal order against you, you could be deported before you have a chance to apply for relief. If there is already a removal order against you, and you want relief, ask a lawyer about filing for a Stay of Removal, Form I-246.

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