| Read Time: 4 minutes | Immigration Law
individual hearing immigration court

When the federal government decides you do not have the legal right to remain in the US, it typically initiates removal or deportation proceedings against you.

The most important part of the removal process is the individual hearing in immigration court. Held before an immigration judge (IJ), the individual hearing is, in essence, a trial where you and the government present your cases. This is also known as a “merits hearing.” 

It is crucial to prepare for your individual hearing so that you can increase your chances of immigration relief. The immigration lawyers at EMP Law can help you navigate the complex maze of immigration court, including helping you present your best potential defense to removal or deportation

Give us a call at (336) 724-2828 or send an online message today for help.

Events Before the Individual Hearing

Removal proceedings begin with the government sending you a Notice to Appear, which explains why the government has concluded that you are not authorized to stay in the US. Following receipt of the Notice to Appear, you attend a master calendar hearing, setting out how the case will proceed. During the master calendar hearing, the IJ will schedule the individual hearing.

Decide on a Case Strategy

In consultation with your attorney, you want to determine what paths you might have to prove that you should be able to stay in the U.S.

Common defenses in immigration court include:

  • Existing green card eligibility,
  • Asylum,
  • Special circumstances that justify withholding or cancellation of removal, and
  • Convention Against Torture (CAT) relief.

Typically, you will have already declared at the master calendar hearing which defense or defenses you will rely on, but you will spend time with your attorney developing your claims after the master calendar hearing.

Gather Your Evidence

Before you meet with your attorney for the first time, gather any documents you received from the government about your case and immigration status. When meeting with your attorney, they will help identify other evidence that will be useful. 

Your Story

Your story forms the basis of your defense. Often, talking about your story can be draining. You may be forced to discuss traumatizing events or the threat of future trauma, especially if you are applying for asylum or CAT relief. Even absent trauma, the threat of leaving your life behind can make the removal process emotionally charged.

Be ready to discuss things that may be painful. As difficult as it may be, the more details you can provide, the better your lawyer will be able to explain to the IJ what is at stake.

Additional Documentation

Apart from talking to you, your attorney may want to speak with others with personal knowledge about why you should stay. 

Additionally, you will provide any documentary evidence that supports your case, such as:

  • Photographs,
  • Text messages or emails,
  • Medical bills or diagnoses, and
  • Documents proving familial relationships.

Each case is unique. Work with your attorney to determine what you should provide based on your situation. 

Submit Your Filings

You will submit all of your gathered evidence to the court. The deadlines for submitting documents should be set at your master calendar hearing. This will give the government attorney and the IJ time to review and respond before the hearing.

For the most part, your attorney prepares your written documents, but they need your input. They will need your assistance to draft an affidavit, a sworn legal statement where you describe your history. 

Your attorney will draft the arguments for your legal claims. These documents may be full of legal terminology you are unfamiliar with since they are designed for an audience that includes the IJ and government attorney. Even if you do not understand every word, you should raise any concerns and correct any errors in your lawyer’s writing.

Prepare Testimony

Getting on the stand in a courtroom is often a foreign, intimidating experience. You can get more comfortable by practicing your testimony. Practicing also allows you and your lawyer to identify and address potential issues, especially clarifying what you should and should not say in court.

Come to the Hearing Prepared

Your attorney should answer all of your immigration individual hearing questions by the time the hearing arrives. You should also know what to expect. In the days before the hearing, get adequate rest and care for yourself physically and mentally.

At the hearing, dress professionally and speak respectfully to the IJ and the government attorney.

What Happens After the Individual Hearing in Immigration Court?

After both sides make their case, the IJ will make a ruling. Sometimes, the IJ issues the ruling at the end of the hearing. Other times, the IJ waits and issues a written ruling.

If the IJ does not grant relief, they will likely order you removed. Even if that occurs, it is not necessarily the end of the line. You can appeal the IJ’s ruling to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA), a federal circuit court, or, in rare cases, the Supreme Court. If you exhaust your appeal options or do not want to appeal, you will have to depart the US.

If the IJ grants you relief, you will likely have additional steps to take. Many, but not all, relief options allow you to pursue a green card. Your attorney will continue helping you through the next steps.

Contact an Immigration Lawyer as Soon as Possible

Time is especially valuable in a removal defense case. The sooner you contact an attorney, the more time you and the attorney have to prepare for your individual hearing in immigration court.

EMP Law has decades of experience protecting our clients’ rights through a tailored approach to deportation and removal cases. Our legal team is ready to help guide you through your options and present the best case for relief possible.

Get started by filling out our online form or calling (336) 724-2828 today.

Author Photo

Helen believes in providing caring, thoughtful and thorough representation for each and every person. In particular, Helen focuses on helping individuals navigate the maze of rules, procedures and processes created by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and those facing criminal charges or deportation.

Author Photo

Emily provides bilingual, trauma-informed immigration legal services to clients throughout the United States and abroad. Her practice focuses on family-based immigration, humanitarian immigration options, and deportation defense. Emily is fluent in Spanish, and is admitted to practice before the Eastern, Middle, and Western Federal District Courts of North Carolina, as well as the Fourth and Fifth Circuit Courts of Appeal.

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