From the moment the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notifies you it intends to deport or remove you, your stress builds.
Whether you were just placed in proceedings or have already presented your case to a judge, you may be wondering, How long does it take for an immigration judge to make a decision?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. How long it takes depends on where in the timeline you are, how complicated your case is, and the court’s backlog.
Although timelines are not always predictable, at EMP Law, we keep our clients informed about what to expect at each stage. Our immigration attorney is passionate about helping the little guy and represents clients in immigration and criminal proceedings. This “crimmigration” background allows us to offer services to noncitizens with and without criminal histories in deportation or removal proceedings.
What Is a Notice to Appear?
Immigration court proceedings begin with a Notice to Appear (NTA). When DHS determines you are deportable or removable, it provides an NTA to open proceedings against you. The NTA explains why the government believes it can remove or deport you and sets the date for your master calendar hearing (MCH). The MCH usually cannot be scheduled within ten days unless you request an earlier date. In practice, hearings are rarely, if ever, scheduled that quickly.
What Is the Master Calendar Hearing?
The next step after the NTA, MCHs usually take around 15 minutes. At the MCH, the government explains the legal grounds it claims mean you should be deported or removed. You respond to the government’s allegations and explain the legal reasons you should be allowed to stay. Then, the immigration judge (IJ) schedules your next hearing, the individual or merits hearing. This may be months or even years down the road.
If you do not attend your MCH, the IJ can order you removed or deported “in absentia.” This can seriously jeopardize your chances of being able to remain in the US.
What Is the Individual Hearing?
The individual hearing is the most crucial step in the process. Like the MCH, if you miss this hearing, you can be ordered deported or removed in absentia and face serious consequences.
At your individual hearing, a DHS attorney presents their case for deporting or removing you. Then, you present the facts and law that support you staying.
Usually, your individual hearing is scheduled for a morning or afternoon block of time. Sometimes, complicated cases take longer than the allotted time. If that occurs, the IJ will schedule a second individual hearing, which may be weeks, months, or even years later.
After both sides present their cases, the hearing ends. The IJ may tell you their ruling at the end of the hearing, or they may wait to issue a written ruling. If the IJ issues a written ruling, it can take them weeks or even months.
How Do You Appeal an Immigration Court Decision?
If the IJ decides you should be deported or removed, you can appeal or waive your right to appeal. Immigration judge decisions become final when 30 days pass or you waive appeal.
To appeal, you generally file a Notice of Appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) within 30 days, starting counting when the IJ issues their opinion. You generally cannot appeal an immigration judge decision after the deadline. Notably, you can appeal BIA decisions to federal circuit courts or, in rare instances, the Supreme Court.
What Is a Motion to Reopen?
Sometimes, new facts that could affect the outcome of your case arise after the IJ makes a decision. If that happens, you can file a Motion to Reopen.
You can also file a Motion to Reopen if you are ordered removed in absentia. The IJ will only reopen your case if you missed your hearing through no fault of your own.
How Long Does It Take for an Immigration Judge to Make a Decision?
How long a case might take depends on several factors, like:
- The point in the process;
- The relative complexity of the case; and
- The court’s backlog.
According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), as of 2023, cases are taking an average of 1,016 days, nearly three years, nationwide to go from NTA to a final decision. This time dramatically increased in 2021 when courts reopened following Covid-19-related shutdowns.
Contact Our Experienced Immigration Lawyers For Help
No matter where you are in the immigration court process, we can help. We defend noncitizens from deportation and removal proceedings with the compassionate understanding that you may be experiencing one of the most stressful events in your life. Contact us today at (336) 724-2828 to get started.