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What to do if you receive a Notice to Appear before an Immigration Judge

Unless you fall under one of the categories of aliens who are subject to expedited removal you are generally entitled to a removal proceeding in an immigration court before being removed. In that case, an immigration officer, usually from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who wishes to commence removal proceedings against you is required to issue to you a Notice to Appear (NTA).

The NTA must specify (1) the nature of the proceedings against you (i.e., removal proceedings); (2) the legal authority under which the proceeding is conducted; (3) the acts or conduct alleged to be in violation of law; (4) the charges against you and the statutory provisions alleged to have been violated; (5) that you may be represented by an attorney and that you will be provided time to secure an attorney (at least ten days); (6) that you are required to provide your address and telephone number; and (7) the time and place at which your hearing will be held.

Receiving an NTA may seem overwhelming and stress-inducing, but you must be proactive once you get one. Here are a few things you should do when you receive the NTA:

Consult an experienced immigration attorney

Immigration laws can be complicated, and a removal proceeding is a serious event. It can change your life dramatically. You may be forced to leave your family in the United States, without being able to see them for several years, and without being able to provide the type of support for them that they have always counted on.

Although non-citizens in general have a good working knowledge of how immigration laws work, there are many misconceptions that persist. For example, many people believe that when you appear at an immigration court for a removal hearing, you can be arrested and deported instantly. Be assured that this is not the case. The removal hearing’s purpose is to protect your rights, not to trick you into to getting close to an ICE officer so that deporting you becomes easier.

An immigration attorney can help you by analyzing the facts of your case, explaining your options to you, looking after your rights during your removal proceedings, and representing you in front of the immigration court. You should always meet with an attorney for at least an initial consultation (which many attorneys offer for no charge) after receiving an NTA.

Provide your address and telephone number to the Attorney General and keep it updated when you move or change your number

You cannot avoid a removal hearing by moving and never informing the Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) of your address. This is because every non-citizen is required to notify immigration authorities within ten days of any change of address. The NTA also informs you of your obligation to provide your address information to the Attorney General upon receipt of the NTA (even if you kept CIS updated as to your address) and the consequences for failure to do so.

Without an updated address, ICE will issue your NTA to the last address you provided, or will be excused from issuing your NTA if you failed to provide an address. If you do not receive the NTA, and consequently missed your hearing, there is a high probability that you will be ordered removed despite your absence from the hearing (“ordered removed in absentia").

Never miss a hearing

Except in exceptional circumstance beyond your control, when you fail to appear at your hearing, whether because you did not receive notice, you forgot about the hearing, you wrote down the wrong date in your calendar, or you just do not care, you can be ordered removed in absentia.

To obtain such an order from the immigration judge, all the ICE counsel has to do is show by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence that written notice of the hearing was provided to you (unless you failed to provide an address) and that you are removable. The ICE counsel’s job is made substantially easier by the fact that you are not there to argue your case or apply for relief.

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