** LEGAL UPDATE **
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun to issue some Notices to Appear (“NTAs”) with inaccurate hearing dates, sowing confusion in the U.S. immigration courts and beyond. Immigrants and advocates have reported receiving NTAs with "dummy" dates in many of the largest immigration court jurisdictions, including Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta and Miami.
The Notice to Appear is a document that, upon issuance, signals the initiation of removal proceedings. Ordinarily, the NTA states the date and time at which the non-citizen must appear in Immigration Court.
However, for people who receive these dummy NTAs, the dates and times of the hearing are inaccurate. Immigrants have reported receiving NTAs with incorrect times, such as midnight. Others have received NTAs for nonexistent dates, such as November 31st. Some immigrants have even received dates that appear to be correct but, when the immigrants appear at court, they discover that their NTAs have never been filed with the immigration court or even that the hearing was actually scheduled for an entirely different date.
The fake NTAs have created chaos in the immigration court system, which already faces a backlog of over 600,000 cases. ICE has failed to offer any explanation for the new policy of issuing NTAs with improper dates. Many immigration experts believe, however, that it is in response to a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court.
On June 21, 2018, the Supreme Court held in Pereira v. Sessions that service of a notice to appear that does not include the date or time of the initial court hearing is defective and does not cut off eligibility for cancellation of removal. Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, ICE had often issued NTAs with the date and time of the court hearing "to be determined." Immigrants who received an NTA had to wait for a hearing notice from the Immigration Court to discover their actual hearing date.
The law is still very much unsettled regarding Pereira’s interpretation, so the extent of its impact is still unknown. However, Pereira may have invalidated the practice of leaving the date and time unknown. This has apparently spurred ICE to issue NTAs with fake dates that have not been cleared with the immigration court.
If you receive a notice to appear, especially if the date seems suspicious, take steps to verify its accuracy. This is especially important because if you miss your hearing date, you may be ordered removed in your absence at your very first hearing.
Upon receiving your NTA, call the hotline for the immigration courts, at 1-800-898-7180, to verify your hearing date. The hotline provides information in both English and Spanish. You will need to enter your alien number, or A-number, in order to listen to your hearing date information. If the hotline does not have any information on your case, then ICE may have issued you an NTA, but failed to file the NTA with the Court.
If the hotline does not have your information, contact the local immigration court (also called the Executive Office of Immigration Review or EOIR) where your hearing will be held. You can find out which immigration court has your case by checking the NTA; or check the online list of immigration courts for the contact information.
Even if the immigration court does not have your information, you can update your address with the court so that, if a hearing date is ultimately issued, the court will be able to contact you.
Although immigrants in removal proceedings have no right to government-paid legal counsel, you can still hire an attorney to represent you in your case. This is especially a good idea if you have been issued an NTA with a fake date, because a qualified attorney may find legal grounds with which to challenge the validity of that NTA. If you cannot afford an attorney, seek guidance from a local immigration nonprofit agency.
Even if your NTA itself has a fake time and date, it is still real, in the sense that ICE is bringing charges against you and intends to initiate removal proceedings. Legal representation is especially important given the hardline stance that ICE has taken under the current administration, as well as the possibility of challenging the new NTA under the recent Supreme Court decision.
Effective Date: October 1, 2018