If you are currently in removal proceedings before an immigration judge, it might seem jarring to receive a "call-in" letter (technically, a Form G-56 or "G-56") from the Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). That agency is the division of U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) responsible for detaining and removing people subject to immigration enforcement actions. You might be wondering: What's going on? Will I be arrested? Will I be deported? Should I show up for the appointment at all?
While the possible answers are as varied as the individual circumstances of each person who gets a call-in letter, certain basic principles apply. This article will provide an overview of these, focusing in particular on ERO's authority when it comes to arresting or detaining foreign-born people in the United States and the risks you'd face if you didn't comply.
The G-56 itself typically says that the appointment is about an "official matter," which sounds alarming but could actually mean any number of things.
Sometimes, ERO might not consider the non-citizen to be enough of a flight risk to detain (more on this in the section below), but wants to check in periodically to confirm that their address hasn't changed or that they haven't moved to another state (while in removal proceedings) without having notified either ICE or the immigration court. Other times, ERO might not have received a permanent address for the person in the first place, and would simply like to get one during the call-in interview.
Basically, for every immigration case in removal proceedings (see What is Deportation (Removal)?), some official needs to decide whether it's safe to allow the foreign-born person to live in U.S. society before the immigration judge decides whether the person should be deported; or whether legal or public safety reasons require that the person be held in detention. A decision also needs to be made about the person's likelihood of not appearing for upcoming immigration court hearings, or eventually for deportation, if that becomes necessary.
Sometimes the decision on whether to arrest is made early on in the legal process, such as when a law enforcement officer encounters a foreign-born person suspected of an immigration violation. Other times, the decision is made at a later time, such as after a call-in appointment. If you are in removal proceedings and receive a call-in letter from ERO, you can assume that the decision of whether to detain, grant a bond to, or release you will most likely be made by the local ERO field office.
ERO does indeed have the authority to arrest and detain people for violations of immigration law, such as unlawful entry to the U.S., violating the terms of a visa, and certain kinds of criminal convictions. Thus, any concerns you might have about presenting yourself at an ERO appointment are not without reason.
Nevertheless, arrest isn't the only possibility. ERO could either:
In some situations, detention of a foreign national is mandatory. As an example, people with certain types of criminal convictions, such as those relating to illegal drugs or violent crimes, are not eligible for release on bond at all during immigration proceedings. (See Section 236(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) 8 U.S.C. § 1226(c).) They will have to remain in detention during the whole of their immigration court proceedings, which can last many months.
In other situations, detention is not legally mandatory, but ERO will nevertheless decide to detain without the possibility of a bond if it believes the person could be a danger to the community or a "flight risk." The latter might apply if, for example, there is evidence that the person failed to appear for a court hearing in the past or doesn't have a permanent address.
The G-56 will tell you exactly where you should go and your appointment time. During the appointment, a duty officer might ask you questions about where you live, your ties to the community, your employment if any, and any prior contacts with law enforcement. ERO might take your fingerprints and run these against FBI and other records to find out about any prior contacts you've had with law enforcement.
The decision to detain or release you will be made based on your answers to ERO's questions along with information ERO discovers or has in its file on you.
Failing to appear at your ERO call-in appointment could, in the long run, lead to worse consequences than simply showing up. While the possibility of ERO arresting and detaining you is alarming, it's the least likely thing to happen. If you've had no prior contacts with law enforcement, appear credible (believable), and can demonstrate significant ties to the community in the United States and/or a promising chance of the judge granting you lawful immigration status here, the likelihood of being detained with no bond is quite slim.
Also, as discussed next, if ERO makes a custody decision that you would like to challenge, you can likely ask an immigration judge to review it.
If you are not happy with the decision that ERO makes about your custody status, you will probably have the opportunity to ask an immigration judge to review it at what's known as a bond hearing. There, for example, you could ask for a lower bond amount, to be released from detention, or (depending on the federal court circuit within which you live, since different ones have made different rulings on this), ask to have your ankle bracelet removed.
As for whether you have the right to ask an immigration judge to review ERO's decision, you'll find this information in the paperwork ERO gives you. If you are already detained by this time, and are eligible for and want a bond hearing, the immigration judge will schedule one for you as soon as possible. Usually bond hearings are held before hearings on the substance ("merits") of a case.
But sometimes ERO detains people after their immigration merits hearings (which often last for more than one session) have already begun. In many cases, these people were arrested by local authorities for a crime or traffic violation after their master calendaring hearing or merits hearing had begun, and so the authorities subsequently turned them over to ICE. In any case, it is still possible to request a bond hearing after having started the merits hearing for your immigration case.
At the bond hearing, you will need to present evidence that you are not a danger to the community and that you are not likely to flee in order to avoid appearing in court again. You may testify, bring in witnesses to speak on your behalf, and submit supporting documents. These might include, for example, statements from people who know about your good character, marriage or birth certificates showing your relationship to people with lawful immigration status in the United States, and proof of employment (if you are authorized to work in the United States).
At the end of the bond hearing, the immigration judge will decide to either agree with ERO's custody decision or vacate ERO's decision and issue a new one. If you are not happy with the immigration judge's decision, you may appeal it to the Board of Immigration Appeals. (Do your best to get a lawyer's help with this appeal, since it's normally done in writing, not in person, and involves a good deal of legal research and knowledge of procedure.)
As mentioned, many people in removal proceedings are eligible for a bond hearing; but not all. For more information, read What Happens at a Bond Hearing in Immigration Court.
ICE's authority to arrest and detain people has been the subject of many lawsuits and court decisions. That means there could have been changes to the law by the time you read this, or that the law might have been interpreted in unique ways by the federal courts serving the area where you live.
If you have received an ERO call-in letter and have questions about how best to prepare for your appointment, consult an experienced immigration attorney with knowledge of your local ICE field office's practices. The attorney can also help you with your removal case, and possibly find defenses to removal that would allow you to remain in the United States. See, for example, Possible Defenses to Deportation of an Undocumented Alien.
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