Immigration Trial (Master Calendar and Individual Calendar Hearings)
This summary is designed for both practioners and individuals going through the removal process.
When you arrive at the hearing, you will need to sign in. Generally, there is a sign-in sheet when you first enter, although, sometimes (depends on the judge's clerk) you just indicate to the clerk you have arrived and he/she marks you as present. If your client is detained, most often they will have video link, and your client will appear on the screen vice in person - although, that again varies by judge. In Arlington, VA, they are almost always via video link. In Baltimore, MD, it varies.
When your case is called, it will be called by the A# of the individual you are representing. You will saunter up to counsel's table…and sit. As this is the master hearing (MCH in our parlance), it equates to an arraignment only.
First, you will be asked about bond. Generally, BEFORE you go to the MCH, you want to file a bond motion. This is not strictly required; you 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, you go "on the record." At this point, the judge will read through the NTA, usually allegation by allegation. He/She will ask how your client pleads to the charges contained in the NTA. Usually, the client will admit the charges. If you have grounds to believe DHS/ICE got something wrong, feel free to challenge an allegation on the NTA. However, that tends to jam the hearing, and require a second MCH to clarify any outstanding allegations. If you know you want to challenge an allegation, bring supporting papers. If you're clever, you can get the judge to dismiss the allegation at the MCH and not have to come back for another MCH. Usually, though, if you challenge an allegation, the judge will give both sides a week or two to prepare a brief on why the allegation should (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 you are seeking. This is the part where you indicate cancellation of removal, asylum/withholding/CAT, etc. If your proposed relief requires a court filing, have that prepared before you go into the MCH. Recognize that you cannot "pre-file" defense relief pleadings; they have to be submitted in open court. Ergo, you can't pre-submit and I-589, for example (asylum/withholding/CAT papers). 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 you can. If you cannot - no worries! Still state the relief you are seeking. If you don't have the required forms ready, the judge will just schedule another MCH for you to turn in the forms. This is somewhat of a pain, so try to knock everything out in one blow...not always possible (and sometimes, you just can't do it all).
Once relief has been discussed, and all forms submitted (either at your 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 you seek. Once the IC is scheduled, you politely thank the court and you are done. You do not have to have briefs prepared for the MCH. You just need to know the relief you are seeking. Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the different types of relief. It is humiliating to ask for relief that is not possible.
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.