What happens first?
The first hearing in removal proceedings is called a “master calendar hearing,” or “MCH.” The MCH is typically short, lasting about 15 minutes. The issues reviewed, however, are incredibly important
During the initial hearing, you (and the ICE attorney) can address any issues in your case. For example, you could be seeking a relatively minor request to change venue to another court location if you reside somewhere far from the court. You could also make a serious challenge against the initial accusations to try to stop proceedings entirely.
Immigration judges have the authority to “continue” (postpone) proceedings, or reschedule the MCH for a later date, if certain issues need time to resolve. For example, immigration judges are usually willing to allow extra time to pursue legal counsel. In some cases, the respondent might have a pending immigration petition, which might allow relief from the removal proceedings; immigration judges are sometimes willing to allow time for these petitions to complete processing. Your case could be continued for a short time or a very long time, even years.
If your case contains no further initial issues to review, and if you, the ICE lawyer, and the court view your case as ready to proceed, and the court will schedule your individual hearing. You will receive written notice of the date, time, and place of your individual hearing from the court clerk at the end of your master calendar hearing. You could be waiting months or even years for your individual hearing, depending on how busy the court is.
What’s Next? Individual hearings
Individual hearings are what they seem: The court focuses on you, yourr individual case to determine whether you are eligible for any forms of relief from removal and ultimately, whether you will be allowed to stay in the U.S. or not.
Because individual hearings give full attention to a specific case, they typically take much longer than the 15-minute MCH. The immigration court will schedule the individual hearing for a four-hour block, either in the court’s morning or afternoon session. During the hearing, the court will hear testimony and review evidence presented by the respondent and by the government lawyer. Each party is given opportunities to make final legal arguments as to why the respondent should or should not be removed from the United States.
In some cases, the testimony and evidence can take much longer than four hours, and other related issues can pop up that delay proceedings. In such cases, the court is required to continue the individual hearing to a later date. Of course, such a rescheduling is subject to the court’s schedule and to the availability of the participants. If your case requires a large amount of evidence and testimony, your individual hearing might take years to resolve.
Once all of the evidence has been presented, witnesses have testified, and the legal arguments have been made, the immigration judge will decide whether you should be removed from the United States. In most cases, the judge will announce the decision immediately in open court. In rare cases, the judge will choose to continue proceedings in order to craft a written decision. In either case, your hearings will have reached an end. However, this is not necessarily the end.
How do I fight a court’s decision?
Either you, or the government, can challenge an immigration judge’s decision. This can be done through a motion to reopen or a motion to reconsider made to the immigration court, or through an appeal directly to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
Motions to reopen a case are generally filed when one or both of the parties to a case have new facts to present that were not previously available but are relevant to the case. A motion to reopen must usually be filed within 90 days of an immigration judge’s final decision, but some exceptions do exist.
Motions to reconsider are sought usually when either party believes that the court interpreted the law incorrectly. Motions to reconsider must usually be filed within 30 days of the court’s decision, but, again, exceptions can apply.
You may also lodge an appeal directly with the BIA, so long as your appeal is filed within 30 days of the court’s decision. The BIA is a body of people within the EOIR that reviews decisions of the immigration courts. Although the BIA is not required to decide appeals within a certain time frame, the BIA strives to issue decisions as efficiently as possible. The BIA states that it generally seeks to adjudicate cases in no more than 180 days.
If you received an unfavorable decision in your case and want to fight on, or if the government seeks to appeal a decision in your favor, you could be facing six months or more of time added to your case. There are also possible routes to appeal BIA decisions through the federal appellate courts, which could add considerable time and expense to your case. Definitely consult an immigration attorney if you are considering the long appeals process.