If you are scheduled for a removal hearing and you do not appear for that hearing, you will likely be ordered removed in your absence. This may be true even if the court website says that you do not have a hearing scheduled. Sadly, our office has heard stories of people being ordered removed for not appearing in court because they were told they did not have a hearing, or because they did not show up in the court system. Allow me to explain.
If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to remove or deport someone inside the United States, they must issue a document called a “Notice to Appear” (NTA), which tells the person exactly why DHS believes they can be deported (i.e. they entered the country illegally, they committed certain crimes, they overstayed their visa, etc…). In most cases, only an Immigration Judge, not DHS, can actually order someone removed or deported from the United States. Importantly, the NTA must inform the person that they must appear in court on a specific time and date to contest their removal.
This should be straightforward, but it is not. Unfortunately, DHS cannot schedule a hearing; only the immigration court can, and DHS is a completely separate agency from the immigration court. So even though DHS is required to put a date and time for the hearing, it is not guaranteed that the court will schedule the hearing that day. This is because DHS must file the NTA with the court before the court can schedule the hearing, and they do not always do that.
Many people have heard rumors that the dates on the NTA are “fake dates” that do not mean you actually have a hearing. Sometimes that turns out to be true, but not always. Additionally, people turn to the immigration court portal to check if they have a hearing scheduled. While this portal is usually correct, it is not 100% accurate. This is because theoretically, DHS could file the NTA with the court on the same day as the hearing, which would effectively schedule your hearing immediately. This means that even if you do not appear in the portal, you should not assume that you will not have hearing on the day listed on the NTA.
This system has created tremendous confusion. Sadly, our office has heard stories of people being ordered removed or deported because they did not believe they had to attend court. Ultimately, if your NTA tells you a day to appear in court, the safest thing to do is assume that it is a real court date, even if your information does not show up in the immigration court portal. It is better to make an unnecessary trip to court than be ordered deported because you didn’t appear when you are supposed.
If you are given an NTA, you should immediately contact an immigration lawyer to discuss your case. Your lawyer will help you prepare for court and determine what, if any, defenses you have against deportation. Feel free to schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney at Minsky McCormick & Hallagan at (312) 427-6163. We will be happy to discuss your case with you.