Many people cannot afford to pay for an immigration attorney to represent them in their case, so for many individuals, their only option is to do it alone. While this is not recommended, it certainly is possible to win your case without an immigration attorney. But before proceeding on your own, you should at least ask an immigration attorney to review your case to explain the steps to you. Louisiana immigration attorneys at Liberty Law Group provide consultations free of charge as a service to our community – if you cannot afford our services then at least give us a call and let us take you through the steps and explain the process to you.
You should also consider speaking with legal service providers like Southern Poverty Law Center or Catholic Charities – these non-profit organizations provide pro bono services to immigrants in immigration removal proceedings all over the countries. Some of these organizations don’t just accept everyone that walks through their door, so if they don’t take your case, your only option at that point is to either pay big money for an immigration attorney (often times the cost can exceed $10,000) or go at it alone.
While we hope you choose Liberty Law Group as your legal immigration service provider in Louisiana, we understand this may not be an option for you. As a result, we are providing you with this article so that you will know what to expect at your next immigration hearing.
All immigration proceedings start with service by an ICE officer of a Notice to Appear. A sample Notice to Appear can be found at the following link: https://www.nationalservice.gov/sites/default/files/resource/Track_I_Sample_NTA.pdf.
Several comments can be made about the notice to appear. First and most importantly, if it is in fact a notice to appear that you have been given, the first page of the document will actually say “Notice to Appear” in bold in the upper right hand corner of the document. If it does not have these words, it is probably some other type of document. The Notice to Appear puts forth in numbered paragraphs the allegations by DHS against you – essentially these are pleadings which tell the immigration judge why you should be deported and sent back to your home country. Before you attend your first immigration court hearing, you should make sure to read each of these allegations very carefully. Very often times these allegations are not disputed and the immigrant will simply admit to each of these allegations at the first hearing. BUT, this may not always be the case. If you believe that any or all of these allegations are in error, then it is your job to deny these allegations at your first master calendar hearing and force the DHS prosecuting attorney to prove the allegations against you.
In addition to citing the factual allegations against you as to why you should be deported from the United States, at the bottom of the Notice to Appear you will find a reference to the legal statute which the government is relying upon to deport you. Understanding this statute and how it relates to your case can often times be the most difficult part of your case, especially if you are a permanent resident being deported as a result of pleading guilty to some crime. Often times immigration attorneys even have a difficult time understanding these removal statues and how they relate to crimes. Inexperienced immigration attorneys often give bad advice on these extremely complicated legal issues.
If you choose to contest DHS’s factual and legal allegations against you, the immigration judge usually decides the matter in one of two ways: (1) they will require the government to prove its case at the very first master calendar hearing; or (2) the immigration judge will set a new court date for what is known as a “contested master calendar hearing.” Often times, immigration judges will choose the second option because most immigration judges in the United States are pro DHS and will give DHS every opportunity possible to prove their case against you. DHS will use this time to gather documents supporting removal such as certified copies of conviction records, I-213s and other legal documents.
It is often difficult to predict exactly how many hearings you will have in immigration court – it is different for everyone. For some of our clients, we might have 5 or 6 total hearings, for other clients it may be as low as two hearings. Generally though, here is a description of the immigration court hearings you will have and what to expect at each hearing;
1. First master calendar hearing – see above. You should show up to court prepared to admit or deny the government’s allegations against you. If you have not had time yet to consult with an immigration attorney prior to your first master calendar hearing, you should ask the judge for one continuance in order to find an attorney. It is fairly standard for an immigration judge to grant a least one continuance and it will most likely be granted if you request it.
2. Second master calendar hearing – This may be a contested master calendar hearing if you deny the government’s allegations. If you admit to the government’s allegations, this will be the hearing where you will submit the application for whatever relief you are eligible for. This is also why it is important to consult with an immigration attorney before your first court date, because it is often difficult to know what relief you might be eligible for if you don’t speak with an attorney. In immigration proceedings, there are a variety of ways to remain in the United States even if the government proves that you should be deported. Here is a non-exclusive list: (1) asylum – you fear returning to your country because you believe you will be persecuted on account of your membership in certain groups; (2) cancellation of removal – you have lived in the United States more than ten years, don’t have any disqualifying convictions, prove that you have good moral character, have a relationship to a US citizen spouse, parent or child and prove that your removal to your country would result in extreme hardship to your US citizen family member; (3) readjustment of status – if you were a green card holder and found removable, under certain limited circumstances you may be eligible to re-apply for your green card by submitting an adjustment of status application along with a waiver for whatever ground of inadmissibility you have; (4) T visa – you were a victim of human trafficking and would like to use the T visa to waive your illegal presence in the United States; (5) U visa – you were the victim of a crime in the United States and would like to use the U visa to waive your illegal presence in the United States; (6) voluntary departure – you do not qualify for any other form of relief and want to make sure that the 5 or 10 year bar for being deported doesn’t prevent you from returning with that period of time so you might be eligible to ask the judge to grant you voluntary departure.
3.Merits hearing: You have already submitted your application and at the second master calendar hearing, the judge selects a date for your merits hearing. This is essentially your trial where you are given the opportunity to present documents and witnesses to support your case. You or your attorney will have an opportunity to ask relevant questions to both yourself and each witness you choose to use, the DHS prosecuting attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine both yourself and any witness you choose to use and the immigration judge also will probably have quite a few questions to ask you.
If the immigration judge denies your case, you will have 30 days to appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Virginia. The Board of Immigration Appeals will either affirm the decision of the immigration judge, overturn the decision and grant the relief you requested or remand the case back to the immigrant judge for further proceedings.
The time between the first and last hearing depends on two primary factors: (1) the location of the hearing; and (2) whether you are in detained or non-detained proceedings. Given the nature of the case and the fact that the immigrant is in detention during the pendency of the case, detained proceedings move must faster than non-detained cases and usually won’t take more than 3-4 months at the most. Non-detained cases can take years given the fact that the immigration court system is seriously backlogged with cases.
If you don’t have the finances to pay for an immigration attorney or if a non-profit organization chooses not to accept your case, if you are determined enough, you certainly can represent yourself in your immigration case, but it will take a LOT of work and preparation in order to give yourself the best possible chance for winning. That said, please call us and let us at least work with you in preparing your case – we can give you the roadmap for success, even if you choose not to ultimately retain us.
Chris lives in Alexandria, Louisiana where he enjoys playing with his girls and being the best husband he can possibly be.