Deportation is the legal process of removing a non-citizen from the United States. It often happens either because a person is in the country illegally—without the necessary documentation—or because the individual has violated the terms of his or her lawful status, such as by overstaying a visa or committing a criminal offense.
The removal process is complex, and the stakes are high. Legal representation from an experienced immigration attorney is critical to build an effective defense strategy, protect your rights, and present the best case possible in immigration course.
The following is an overview of the deportation process in U.S. immigration court.
The Start of the Removal Hearings
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is in charge of commencing a removal proceeding, typically through its Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division—known as ICE. Whether they are tipped off by phone or conduct a raid, there are various ways in which a non-citizen may come in contact with immigration authorities.
DHS must serve the illegal alien with a Notice to Appear (NTA) before an immigration judge, informing him or her of the following:
- The nature of the proceedings
- The alleged grounds for deportation
- The individual’s right to hire a lawyer
- The consequences of failing to appear at scheduled hearings
Removal hearings are held before an immigration judge (IJ) under the umbrella of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The judge will determine whether the alien’s actions or lack of immigration status make him or her deportable from the U.S., or whether he or she merits any legal or discretionary relief.
Master Calendar Hearing
The first hearing is called a master calendar hearing. Even if you do not have a lawyer and do not know whether you have any defense to removal, it is imperative to attend this criminal meeting.
If you fail to attend this or any hearing, you will receive an automatic order of removal against you. This order prohibits you from returning to the U.S., with any sort of visa, for ten years.
On the other hand, if you appear in court despite having no defense to removal, you may be eligible to negotiate a “Voluntary Removal” (VR). This is considered an admission to having no legal right to stay in the country and an agreement to leave on your own power.
However, if you have some legal basis which to remain in the United States, you do not want to accept VR. Even after having been placed into deportation proceedings, you may still be able to qualify for a green card based on such grounds as marriage or another close family relationship to a U.S. citizen, cancellation of removal, asylum, or showing the DHS made a mistake about your removal.
The Merits Hearing(s)
If you and your attorney have a case to defend you against deportation, you must attend the merits hearing. You will be required to testify on your own behalf, with your lawyer asking the questions. You will also be examined by a lawyer for DHS. You can use the aid of witnesses, pieces of evidence, or experts in the field.