Last updated on October 31st, 2018
Every year, the U.S. issues hundreds of thousands of Notices to Appear (NTA) to immigrants living in the country. The government does so in order to initiate removal proceedings, which often results in deportation.
For this reason, receiving an NTA is a serious matter that merits immediate legal action, even if you are in the country legally.
In this article, we’ll discuss the first step in the removal process: the Master Calendar Hearing. On this date, given in your NTA, you must appear in court and review the charges against you.
While brief, your Master Calendar Hearing is a very important part of the removal process. By preparing for it ahead of time, you can dramatically improve your chances of avoiding deportation.
Receiving Your Notice to Appear
By law, the government must send you a Notice to Appear before it initiates removal proceedings. The only exception to this policy applies to individuals undergoing expedited removal.
After receiving this Notice, you should immediately speak with an immigration attorney. Unlike criminal courts, immigration courts do not assign lawyers to people, so it’s critically important that you bring your own.
Once you receive an NTA, you should always make sure to personally attend the Master Calendar Hearing. If you fail to do so, the judge overseeing your case may issue an in absentia order of removal.
This means that if you’re ever “caught” again by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), they’ll immediately deport you before you even see an immigration judge. Further, you’ll forfeit several types of relief from removal, and will become ineligible for most future types of relief for a period of 10 years.
As one final note, while you can bring friends and family with you to your hearing, you should make sure they have proper documentation. Otherwise, they might also receive a Notice to Appear.
What Will Happen at My Master Calendar Hearing?
Normally, Master Calendar Hearings are straightforward events that follow a short, general list of procedures. These consist of explaining your rights, asking you to confirm or deny the allegations against you, and determining your eligibility for relief.
Understanding the Proceedings
First, a judge will make sure you fully understand what’s going on. To do so, the judge will ask what language you are most comfortable speaking in, and provide an interpreter if necessary. Then, they will explain your rights to counsel, confirm your address, and move on to explaining the charges against you.
During this step, you need to make sure you fully understand everything the judge is asking. If you don’t understand a question, feel free to ask the judge to explain what they mean. If you still don’t fully understand the judge’s questions, and an interpreter is unavailable, the judge overseeing your removal proceedings might schedule a new hearing for a different day.
Confirming or Denying Allegations
After confirming that you understand the current proceedings, the judge will explain why the government has initiated removal proceedings. They will then ask you to confirm or deny the charges against you. This step is very important, as admitting to violations of immigration law could negatively affect your future admissibility.
This is the part of the Master Calendar Hearing that causes immigrants the most problems. For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you hire a lawyer who can help you answer these questions. For example, while a judge might let you go if you confirm that you simply overstayed your visa, while confirming a charge such as fraud might result in criminal charges or certain deportation.
This is also your opportunity to correct any incorrect information on your NTA. You should do so, even if the information doesn’t seem important. Failing to correct discrepancies could cause issues down the line, potentially including accusations of fraud.
Determining Your Eligibility for Relief
In order to determine whether you are eligible for a family-based green card, the judge will inquire as to whether you are related to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. They will also examine your criminal record and the manner in which you entered the United States, to see if either disqualifies you from a family visa.
If you are eligible, your relative may file a family-based green card on your behalf. If there are no other issues, the judge will issue a continuance allowing you to remain in the United States until USCIS accepts or denies the petition.
Alternatively, some immigrants may be eligible for defensive asylum. In this case, you must prove that you’ve been a victim of persecution due to your gender, race, ethnicity, or membership in a specific social or political group. You will also need to demonstrate that deporting you back to your country of origin would endanger your personal well-being.
After Your Master Calendar Hearing
At the end of your Master Calendar Hearing, the judge overseeing your case will set several dates. This will always include a date by which you will need to submit all of your paperwork. In some cases, such as asylum applications, you will also receive a date for your individual merits hearing. This is a hearing at which you will attempt to prove the legitimacy of your case.
If you do not believe that you will be able to make the dates set by your judge, tell your lawyer immediately. Together, you and your legal counsel can motion for a continuance, giving you the extra time you need.
Most Master Calendar Hearings are quite short, rapid-fire proceedings, especially by immigration court standards. However, accomplishing your goals at a Master Calendar Hearing is an important first step toward preventing your deportation.
To this end, you should contact an experienced immigration lawyer well in advance of your hearing. Doing so can help your case significantly in the long run.