What is an Individual “Merits” Hearing?

Your individual merits hearing is when you’ll argue your case for staying in the United States in front of an Immigration Judge.

Last updated on January 28th, 2019

Going through removal proceedings in the United States is a complicated process, and fighting these charges can take a great deal of money and time.

The individual “merits” hearing is the last step in the deportation process, and also the most important.

At your individual merits hearing, you’ll get a chance to argue your case for remaining in the United States. While a successful merits hearing may mean the end of your removal proceedings, an unsuccessful merits hearing can result in deportation.

In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of individual merits hearings and the ways in which they can affect your deportation case.

What is a “Merits” Hearing?

Immigration document with a black pen.

In legal terms, an “individual merits hearing,” “merits hearing,” and “individual hearing” all mean the same thing. They all refer to a step in the removal process called the “individual calendar hearing.”

In contrast to your master calendar hearing, this is the hearing where you and your attorney will make the case for why you should remain in the United States. This means that the merits hearing is your best chance to argue your case for remaining in the country.

Merits Hearing Procedures

Individual merits hearings can proceed very differently depending on the specifics of a given case. However, most hearings begin with the court assigning you an interpreter.

After assigning you an interpreter, the court will review all the documents, applications, and petitions relevant to your case. You will then have a chance to correct any inaccuracies or submit additional documentation.

To avoid complications during this step, make sure you have completed and submitted all of your paperwork prior to your hearing.

Next, you and your lawyer will present your argument together. During this process, the immigration judge and/or a Department of Homeland Security attorney may ask you additional questions.

They may also choose to question any witnesses testifying on your behalf. If this occurs, always answer as completely and truthfully as possible.

After this, your lawyer will deliver a closing statement. The immigration judge may also allow the Department of Homeland Security’s attorney to present a statement on your case. Afterwards, the immigration judge will deliver a decision on your case.

How Should I Prepare for My Individual Merits Hearing?

Organized filing cabinet, several files with papers inside.

The best way to prepare for your merits hearing is to hire a lawyer. Without an attorney, it will be very difficult to make a strong case at your hearing.

Do note that, unlike criminal proceedings, you don’t have the right to an attorney. The responsibility for finding an attorney falls entirely on you. The immigration court will not appoint an attorney for you.

In addition to what we’ve stated above, there are a few additional things you’ll have to go over with your attorney in order to prepare for your individual merits hearing.

Submit All Relevant Paperwork

It’s important to submit full, correct documentation and petitions before your merits hearing.

Asylum applications, applications for permanent residency, and removal waivers can all take a long time to process.

Immigration judges are more likely to look favorably upon respondents who file their paperwork prior to their merits hearing.

Prepare Witnesses

In some cases, it might be useful to have one or more witnesses at your proceedings.

For example, if you are entitled to remain in the U.S. because your spouse is a citizen or permanent resident, they may testify to your relationship. Similarly, an expert witness in an asylum case may testify as to the degree of persecution you would suffer if removed.

Make Sure You Can Be There

Most importantly, you have to be in court on the day of your hearing. If you fail to do so, the immigration judge overseeing your case may put in an order for your removal.

If that happens, you will face immediate deportation from the country.

If you know you won’t be able to make it to court on the day of your hearing, you should file a motion for a continuance. However, doing so is complicated and won’t always be successful. For this reason, it’s always better to make the date you are given.

If you do miss your hearing, get in touch with your lawyer immediately. In rare cases, it may be possible to file for a motion to reopen your case. However, keep in mind that this form of relief is quite rare.

Conclusion

Smiling beautiful curly Hispanic mother teaches her cute little daughter prepare pizza in the kitchen.

Overall, the individual merits hearing is the single most important step in your removal proceedings. In many cases, the strength of the argument you make during your removal proceedings will be the single most important factor in whether or not you can remain in the United States.

For that reason, it is important to prepare extensively before your court date.

Ultimately, the best way to prepare for an individual merits hearing is to hire a good lawyer. By getting in touch with an experienced immigration lawyer early, you can build the best possible argument for remaining in the United States.

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