If you have received a Notice to Appear, make no mistake about it: ICE wants to kick you out of the United States. The notice to appear charges the respondent (the non-citizen, usually) with being in the United States unlawfully. The notice to appear will contain numbered factual allegations that explain why the respondent is accused of being in the United States unlawfully. The notice to appear will also explain what provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act that the respondent is accused of violating.
In immigration court, there are two kinds of hearings: (1) master calendar hearings; and (2) individual hearings. A master calendar hearing is a general purpose hearing. Testimony is not normally taken at master calendar hearings. For master calendar hearings, immigration judges usually schedule many cases at the same time.
If you are found removable by the immigration judge, then you must apply for relief from removal. If you are ineligible for relief from removal, then you will be ordered deported. Among the forms of relief from removal are:
Another function of master calendar hearings is to apply for relief from removal, submit applications for relief, submit evidence in support of applications for relief and to schedule individual hearings on applications for relief.
The other type of hearing is an individual hearing. Unlike a master calendar hearing, at an individual hearing, no other case is scheduled except for yours. Usually, merits hearings occur at individual hearings. A merits hearing is when the immigration court holds a mini-trial on an application for relief. Testimony is taken on whether or not to allow the respondent to remain in the United States. Sometimes individual hearings are used for immigration judges to render decisions or to address complicated legal issues.
Proceedings before the immigration judge is far from final. Appeals to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, and to the United States Court of Appeals are both possible, but careful consideration must be taken before deciding to embark on that route, because it is time consuming and costly. Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has reversed the BIA and IJ’s with some regularity.