Can I Switch to a Different Immigration Court Than in the State Where ICE Arrested Me?

When and how to apply for a change of venue when noncitizen living in a different state.

Someone who has crossed the border without inspection, but is later apprehended by U.S. immigration patrols and released from detention, is sometimes given a document called a Notice to Appear (NTA). This will show a court date and location, typically to whatever immigration court is closest to where the arrest took place. Unfortunately for the many undocumented relatives coming to join family in the U.S., that often results in a situation where the apprehended person has no relatives or friends nearby.

If this happens to you or a family member, you're probably wondering: Is there any way to move the hearing to closer to where the undocumented immigrant's family lives, so that he or she has a place to stay, and family support, while the court hearings proceed?

Finding the Court Location on the Notice to Appeal

As you may have noticed, the Notice to Appear (NTA) specifically lists the court where the non-citizen who has been arrested must appear. Assigning the case to the court having jurisdiction over the location where an entrant was discovered to be in the U.S. without authorization is the usual procedure.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) does, however, have immigration courts throughout the United States. It's possible to request a change of venue (court location) for someone wishing to attend court at a location other than where he or she is scheduled to appear.

The immigration judge is not required to change the venue, but may do so as a matter of discretion, after balancing the factors of the case. Factors the judge will consider include whether the case has been rescheduled in the past and whether the person has viable options to stay in the United States, among others.

How to Request an Immigration Court Venue Change

Your request must state the date and time of the next scheduled hearing. The non-citizen must respond to all of the allegations listed in the Notice to Appear and designate a country to return to if the case is denied or if he or she ultimately does not contest it (put up a defense).

The non-citizen must also explain what type of relief he or she will seek from the immigration court. Finally, the non-citizen must provide an explanation as to why he or she would prefer a different location. If the request to change venue is based on the fact of having moved, you will also need to submit a copy of a change of address form, EOIR Form-33/IC, to the court system.

Such a request must be filed with the court where the hearing is currently scheduled. A motion is a legal document that must match various requirements set by the court and described in the Immigration Court Practice Manual.

It may be easiest to have an attorney prepare this for you. And you will definitely want to do all you can to find an attorney for the court proceedings, which are complex and require an understanding of the details of immigration law.

If you can not afford a private attorney, many reputable nonprofit organizations provide free or low-cost legal services. Some may even work with you to find a pro bono (volunteer) attorney at a law firm. Check the Immigration Court list of providers of low-cost immigration legal services.

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