Immigration Trial (Master Calendar and Individual Calendar Hearings)
This summary is designed for both practitioners and individuals going through the removal process.
When a client arrives at the hearing, s/he will need to sign in. Generally, there is a sign-in sheet when you first enter, although, sometimes (depends on the judge's clerk) a person can just indicate to the clerk that s/he has arrived and the clerk marks you as present. If the client is detained, most often they will have a video link, and the client will appear on the screen vice in person - although, that again varies by judge. In Arlington, they are almost always via video link. In Baltimore, MD, it varies.
When the case is called, it will be called by the number of the individual the lawyer is representing. The lawyer will walk up to counsel's table and sit. As this is the master hearing (MCH), it equates to an arraignment only.
First, the lawyer and client will be asked about bond. Generally, before one goes to the MCH, he or she wants to file a bond motion. This is not strictly required; a person may make an oral motion for bond at the first MCH. However, most immigration judges (IJ's) frown on that. The proper technique is to send a copy of the bond motion prior to the hearing to both DHS and the judge. Bond motions are heard off-record, so that will come first. Visit this section of the site for immigration bond information.
Once the bond motion is done, the lawyer will go "on the record." At this point, the judge will read through the NTA (Notice to Appear), usually allegation by allegation. He/She will ask how the client pleads to the charges contained in the NTA. Usually, the client will admit the charges. If the lawyer or client has grounds to believe DHS/ICE got something wrong, they may challenge an allegation on the NTA. However, that tends to jam the hearing, and requires a second MCH to clarify any outstanding allegations. If a lawyer knows that he or she wants to challenge an allegation, they should bring supporting papers. If they're clever, they can get the judge to dismiss the allegation at the MCH and not have to come back for another MCH. Usually, though, if someone challenges an allegation, the judge will give both sides a week or two to prepare a brief on why the allegation should (or should not) be sustained. Ultimately, it is the burden of the government to prove the validity of any allegation.
Once all the allegations have been admitted (or dismissed), the judge will ask what type of relief the client is seeking. This is the part where the lawyer indicate cancellation of removal, asylum/withholding/CAT, etc. If the proposed relief requires a court filing, the lawyer should have that prepared before going into the MCH. Recognize that it is not possible to"pre-file" defense relief pleadings; they have to be submitted in open court. This means that I-589, for example (asylum/withholding/CAT papers) can't be submitted prior to court. Cancellation also requires appropriate forms (42B, etc.), so be sure to fill them out prior to the MCH and be ready to turn them in if possible. If it is not possible to fill out forms prior to the MCH, the lawyer can still state the relief the client is seeking. If the required forms are not ready, the judge will just schedule another MCH for so that the forms can be turned in there. This is somewhat of a pain, so try to knock everything out in one blow...not always possible (sometimes, you just can't do it all).
Once relief has been discussed, and all forms submitted (either at the first, or subsequent MCH's), the judge will schedule and individual calendar hearing (IC). That is the actual trial date on the merits of the relief that is being sought. Once the IC is scheduled, the MCH is done. Briefs do not need to be prepared for the MCH. The only thing a person needs is to know what relief he or she is seeking. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the different types of relief.
It is highly advisable to retain informed, competent immigration counsel before going to trial. A mistake here can, obviously lead to deportation. More importantly, it can wreck your family and cause incredible problems for all your loved ones.