Removal proceedings, often referred to as deportation, are administrative proceedings used to determine whether or not a foreign national will be expelled from the U.S.
A foreign national’s immigrant status can be tipped off to the Department of Justice (DOJ) by a number of ways. Whether through an arrest or a workplace raid, local and federal law enforcement agencies often work together to find individuals suspected of entering the country illegally.
Unless a person meets the criteria for the expedited removal process, the proceedings start with a Notice to Appear (NTA) The NTA is a letter that lists the reasons why the U.S. government believes the person is in the country illegally. Briefly outlined in the NTA is the removal process. The NTA will list a court hearing date, which must be at least 10 days from when the notice was received.
The letter must clearly state the individual’s right to hire an attorney. Foreign nationals are not entitled to free legal representation, but they can hire an attorney on to represent them.
The master hearing is the first of several possible hearings. It is imperative to attend the hearing; often people fail to attend out of fear or because they think they do not have a strong defense to whatever the charges are. Failing to attend will result in an automatic order of removal being issued. Depending on the reason for deportation, a non-citizen with an order of removal is not eligible to return for ten years or longer.
Attending the hearing allows you to deny the charges or negotiate for a voluntary removal. Under a voluntary removal, you admit to not having a right to remain in the U.S. and agree to the leave the country on your own. In order to be eligible for a voluntary removal you must have valid travel documents, money to pay for your travel expenses and no prior voluntary departures on your record. Generally people granted voluntary removal have two to four months to get their affairs in order before leaving the country.
Accepting a voluntary removal is not necessary if you have a defense against the allegations of grounds for removal. Simply because you are eligible for removal does not mean that you must be removed from the country.
Individuals with a strong defense case are granted a merit hearing during which to present their case. At this hearing you are allowed to testify on your own behalf while your attorney and a DOJ attorney ask questions. During a merit hearing you need to convince the judge why you should be allowed to remain in the country and your attorney can help strengthen your case.
Unlike the master hearing which only last a few moments, the merits hearing lasts much longer while a judge hears evidence to determine whether or not a the removal should happen. After the hearing, a judge will give a decision to either grant relief from removal or ordering the removal to proceed.
The judge’s decision can be appealed by both the U.S. government and the foreign national. The appeal must be filed within 30 days of the merit hearing. When an appeal has been filed it puts an automatic stay on the order of removal meaning that the person cannot be removed while the appeal is pending. Immigration laws frequently change and working with an immigration attorney will greatly strengthen your case.