Preparing for your immigration court hearing takes time and effort.
If you or a loved one has to go to immigration court, you will almost certainly feel anxious. The best thing to do is to begin learning about the immigration court process and taking steps to develop a defense to deportation.
Learn more below about the most important steps to take before your immigration court date.
Know the date, place, and time of your court hearing
First, you need to make sure that you know exactly when and where your immigration court hearing will take place. Sounds obvious, right? But remember: the worst thing you can do is to miss your immigration court hearing, because that could result in an automatic order of deportation.
The best way to check your immigration court hearing date is by checking your hearing notice and by calling the automated court system (1-800-898-7180). You can also call the immigration court directly, by using this list.
The more options you use, the more sure you can be that you know when and where to go for immigration court.
Keep your address current with the immigration court
If you have recently moved to a new home, you need to immediately notify the immigration court of your new address. Do this by mailing in a Form EOIR-33, which is a change of address form.
If you don’t, there is no way for the immigration court to know where you live. This is a big problem if the court needs to change your hearing date, because you’ll risk not knowing the new date.
Talk to an experienced immigration attorney
You should almost certainly consult with an experienced immigration attorney about your options for stopping your deportation.
A good immigration attorney will ask you lots and lots of questions to evaluate your options. For example, he or she will ask about your entries and departures to the U.S., your family members if they have lawful immigration status, your criminal record, any fears you have about returning to your home country. Your answers could greatly impact your case.
When picking a good immigration attorney, you should find someone who specializes in immigration, or at least devotes a lot of their time to it. Laws on deportation are very complicated and you need someone who really knows what they are doing. A good starting point is to search for an attorney who is a member of the American Immgration Lawyers Association (AILA)
It is important to talk to an immigration attorney because you are far likelier to get a good outcome in immigration court.
Review your Notice to Appear
Next, before going to your court hearing you need to read carefully your Notice to Appear. This document contains the reasons why the government wants to deport you. In other words, the Notice to Appear will tell you the reasons why the government thinks you are required to leave the United States. It might say that you came to the United States illegally, or that you came on a visa and stayed too long, or that you committed crimes that broke your status.
You want to review the document because the immigration judge will be expecting you to respond to it at your hearing. Regardless of what it says, you need to figure out if the Notice to Appear is correct. If it is wrong, then you need to be prepared to explain why it is wrong.
Normally, you receive the Notice to Appear through the mail. (Or if you were arrested by ICE, the deportation officer should have given it to you in person.) . It is important to know that this notice is not a deportation order. It is just a charging document — an accusation. Sometimes it is correct, and sometimes not.
If you cannot find the Notice to Appear, then you will need to be prepared to tell the immigration judge and ask the immigration prosecutor for a copy.
Know key facts and write them down
Fourth, before your immigration court hearing you need to gather some information.
When you go to your immigration court hearing by yourself, the immigration judge is required to tell you if the law allows you to apply for benefits that could stop your deportation — like asylum, cancellation of removal, etc. But the immigration judge will not be able to tell you this unless you have accurate, thorough information. So what information do you need to know?
- When you entered and left the United States. The more information you have the better. If you remember the month and year, then great. But if you don’t remember, then don’t just make it up.
- How you entered is just as important as when. Get specific. Sometimes people think they entered “illegally” but actually did not. For example, in the past it was very common for people to drive to the border without a visa and get “waved through” by a border patrol officer. That counts a legal entry, as long as you did not specifically say you were a U.S. citizen. So be sure to get specific about how you entered the United States.
- Your family members and their immigration statuses. You should come prepared with information on your kids, spouse, and parents. Know their ages, and their immigration status. Are they green card holders? Are they U.S. citizens? Are they visa holders? Are they here without any status? Also, in many situations, having stepchildren can help your case. So when you are asked to provide information on your children, be sure to include stepchildren as well.
- Your criminal record. Whether you are able to apply for something that will stop your deportation will almost certainly depend on your criminal record. Therefore, you should know each time you were arrested, where, and what was decided by the criminal court. Even if you remember these details, it is best to go back to the police department that arrested you, and to the court that heard your case, and ask for a copy of your records. This way you will get the most accurate information possible.
- If your life is in danger back home, then get as much information on the threat. This will help you in case you qualify for a certain immigration benefit called asylum. Asylum is a type of protection given by the United States government to non-citizens whose lives are in danger for specific reasons. So if you think you may qualify for asylum, then try to gather as much information as you can about the situation in your home country.
In sum, there are several things you can do to prepare for your immigration court hearing:
- First, you need to take steps to know when and where is your immigration court hearing. Be careful. In addition to checking your hearing notice, try calling the immigration court hotline and the court itself. Also, if you ever move to a new home, update the court with your new mailing address.
- Second, talk to an immigration attorney about your options.
- Third, read your Notice to Appear carefully. Fourth, gather information and records that are relevant to any defenses you may have to deportation.
Preparing for immigration court takes time and hard work. Start early in taking the steps needed to stop your deportation. Know your court date, consult with an experienced lawyer, update your address, and gather the information most important to your case.