If you or a loved one have received a Notice to Appear, you may be worried about what will happen next. Many people in this situation are understandably nervous, and no doubt, receiving a Notice to Appear is a serious thing. Although the government can immediately deport certain individuals, if you received a Notice to Appear, it means that you will have the opportunity to fight the deportation.
A Notice to Appear is the document by which the government begins removal proceedings against the person or persons named in the document. The document will say “Notice to Appear” at the top. In addition, it will contain several factual allegations and a “charge” at the bottom. The “charge” is the legal reason the government claims you should be deported. There are a wide variety of charges possible. Some of the more common ones though, are that you are present in the United States without proper documentation, are inadmissible despite being a green card holder, or have committed certain criminal offenses.
The first step in a deportation case depends on whether or not the person is detained by the government. If the person named in the Notice to Appear is not detained, this paragraph doesn’t apply. If the person is detained though, the first step is generally a “bond hearing,” at which an Immigration Judge will decide if the person will be released during removal proceedings, and how much the bond will be if bond is granted. A person’s criminal history is a critical factor in whether the person will be given bond, and if granted, how much the bond will be. Various other factors also matter however, for example, family relations in the States and the strength of the immigration defense. Cases vary widely and Judges consider each case according to its own merits, but being granted bond in some amount is typical. Depending on the case, however, the person may get a high bond (for instance, more than $10,000), be denied bond as a matter of discretion, or be denied bond because the law prohibits it (if a person has certain serious criminal convictions).
The “next” step is what’s called a master calendar hearing. This hearing would be your first hearing if you were never in ICE detention. (If you're in ICE detention, this hearing will likely take place both at the time of the bond hearing, and at your first hearing after release if you are released, though local practice may vary). You may be scared to come to this hearing for fear of deportation, but in fact, not showing up is far worse than actually going to Immigration Court. This is because, if you don't show up, a deportation order will almost certainly be entered in your absence. When you do show up, the master calendar hearing is actually a very simple, quick hearing. The purpose of this hearing is essentially for the Judge to understand what you say about the factual allegations and the “charge” in the Notice to Appear, and what defenses, if any, you have against deportation. If you want the Judge to have you deported at this hearing, you likely will be able to do so (though there are certain requirements for that). But, assuming you don’t want that and that you have some kind of defense, the master calendar hearing itself is nothing to fear. Although the wait for your turn on the day of the hearing may take somewhat long, when you go in front of the Judge it usually takes no more than five minutes or so. If you have an attorney, which would be best given the procedural and legal complexity of removal proceedings, the attorney will do almost all the talking at this hearing.
After the initial master calendar hearing, different things could happen, depending on your case. Depending on the local Court’s calendar and the nature of your case, the Judge may schedule a final hearing when you go to the first master calendar hearing. The final hearing is called an “individual hearing,” and in essence is your opportunity to present your case. The individual hearing could be scheduled anywhere from weeks to months to years after the initial master calendar hearing. This final hearing will last much longer, typically an hour or more, and is the most important step of the removal proceedings. If your case is less straightforward, or if extra time is needed for certain reasons, one or more master calendar hearings may be scheduled before you get a final hearing. For instance, if you’ve married a United States citizen and are eligible to adjust status, it is still U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (rather than the Immigration Judge) who does the interview to determine if the marriage is legitimate, and another Immigration Court master calendar hearing may need to be scheduled to give time for this interview to occur. Whenever the individual hearing happens though, it is critically important to be thoroughly ready for it. The individual hearing isn’t necessarily the final say on your case, given that appeals may potentially be an option, but it certainly is vital. All told, the Notice to Appear is a serious document. At the same time, however, there is a legal process through which removal proceedings occur. The first hearing is not the last, and, if there is a defense to deportation to be made, you will have your day in court to try and prevent removal.
Disclaimer: Although I'm an attorney, unless I am retained by you, I am not your attorney. The information in this blog is solely general legal information. Especially in immigration law, the particular facts of your individual case are vitally important and general legal information alone should not be used to make a personalized decision. In addition, the law can change rapidly, and what is found in a particular post may not be the most current reflection of the law. Thus, please speak with an attorney before either taking or choosing not to take any action relevant to your case.