Hiring a lawyer to represent you in an immigration court case is a major decision, particularly because a lawyer can get very expensive. An experienced lawyer, however, can make a big difference in your experience and ultimately affect the outcome of your case. Here are a few things to expect from your lawyer in an immigration court case.
Review Charging Document and Determine Plea and Defense Strategy
In order to initiate removal proceedings, the government must serve you and the Immigration Court with a Notice to Appear (“NTA”). The NTA lists the charges against you – why the government believes that you are deportable from the United States. Your immigration lawyer will review the NTA with you and determine how to plead. If anything is incorrect, he or she will notify the court.
Also, if the government has not proven any of the charges and it is its burden to do so, your lawyer will insist that it do so before moving forward with the case. If the government does not come through with evidence, your lawyer may even move to have the proceedings terminated.
Once it is determined that the charges against you are correct and you are deportable from the U.S., you will need to let the Immigration Judge know what your defense against removal will be. Your immigration lawyer will review your situation to determine what your defense options are. The lawyer will review all of the options with you and come up with the best strategy for your case.
Complete Applications and Compile Supporting Documents
Once your defense strategy has been established, your immigration lawyer will complete the necessary applications on your behalf. You will need to actively participate to ensure that all of the correct information is provided, but typically, your lawyer will take the lead in preparing all applications that will be submitted to the Immigration Court. He or she will also work with you and your family to collect the relevant supporting documents. These can include: affidavits, letters of support, country condition reports, proof of your presence in the U.S., and information regarding your family members.
When applications and supporting documents are submitted to the court, certain rules must be followed. For example, there are rules relating to when applications must be filed and how packets should be put together. An experienced immigration lawyer should know all of these rules so that your filing is not rejected by the court.
Prepare You and Other Witnesses for the Merits Hearing
When you hire an immigration lawyer to represent you in an immigration court case, he or she will typically speak on your behalf during all master calendar hearings. The master calendar hearings are preliminary hearings. Your final hearing, the individual calendar hearing, however, is different. During the individual calendar hearing, you will testify regarding your defense application. Depending on the defense, you may also have other witnesses testifying on your behalf.
The individual calendar hearing is very important since it is the Immigration Judge’s last and most significant opportunity to hearing from you, your lawyer, and the government lawyer. After hearing all of the testimony, the Immigration Judge will make a decision on your case.
Because of the importance of the individual calendar hearing, it is vital to be properly prepared. Prior to the individual calendar hearing, your immigration lawyer should review the application with you and prepare you for questioning. If you will have other witnesses testifying on your behalf, such as family members or employers, your lawyer will also prepare them for questioning. This way, you know what to expect and can prepare for some of the harder questions that the government lawyer or Immigration Judge may ask you.
Additional Things to Consider
An immigration lawyer experienced in removal proceedings is often invaluable because of experience. Often, they have been in front of the local Immigration Judges enough to know what the individual judges expect or how they tend to lean on particular issues. This helps them to prepare your case and also prepare you on what to expect in court.
Removal proceedings are very serious. If you lose your case, you can be issued an Order of Removal.
Removal proceedings can also be confusing, especially if the parties do not agree on the charges. You will likely have a lot questions at each step of the way. Your immigration lawyer should answer your questions and try to ease your anxieties. (Also, for more information, see the "Noncitizens in Deportation or Removal Proceedings" section of Nolo's website.)
Lastly, not all cases can be won. Unfortunately, if you do not qualify for any defenses from removal or have a very weak case, hiring a lawyer will not automatically change this. What a lawyer can do, however, is help you understand where you stand so that you are not completely taken by surprise during your hearing.