Immigration Court: Preparing for Your Individual Hearing

Gavel on table next to documents from Department of Homeland Security

Facing an individual hearing in immigration court can be incredibly overwhelming, especially given the complexity of immigration law. This is a pivotal moment that will greatly influence your future in the United States. It’s important to thoroughly prepare for your individual hearing in immigration court to present your case effectively.

This guide will help you prepare for what happens at an individual hearing in immigration court.

What Is an Individual Hearing in Immigration Court?

When the federal government determines that you do not have the legal right to stay in the United States, they usually begin removal proceedings against you. In immigration court, an individual hearing is a formal hearing where you present your case to an immigration judge.

You will have the opportunity to present compelling evidence and provide testimony that supports your eligibility for immigration status. The goal is to demonstrate why you should continue residing in the United States.

Ultimately, the judge will decide on your application after an individual hearing. In some cases, there may be multiple hearings to examine evidence or hear testimony. The judge may communicate their verdict either verbally or in writing.

What is the Difference Between a Master Hearing and an Individual Hearing?

A master calendar hearing is a preliminary hearing where the judge determines whether there are grounds for deporting you. If it is established that you can be deported, you may apply for permission to stay in the United States if you are eligible. Master hearings are brief appointments lasting approximately 10 minutes.

The judge assesses your application to remain in the United States during an individual hearing in immigration court. This can last for hours as it will include your testimony, witness testimony, evidence submissions, and cross-examination.

How to Prepare for an Individual Hearing in Immigration Court

This guide will help you to prepare for your individual hearing in immigration court.

1. Get Legal Representation

Find an immigration attorney who has a track record of handling cases similar to yours. You will want to make sure you provide your attorney with all the necessary details about your case. Transparency will allow them to prepare a strong defense on your behalf.

2. Familiarize Yourself with Your Case

Before applying for relief:

  • Make sure you are well informed about your eligibility.
  • Take the necessary steps to understand the specific criteria you must meet.
  • Discuss with your attorney the required actions, regardless of the outcome.
  • Seek their guidance and advice on how to proceed further.

3. Gather and Organize Evidence and Documentation

Make sure to gather all the important documents you need like:

  • birth certificates
  • marriage certificates
  • police reports
  • medical records
  • text messages
  • emails

Additionally, prepare affidavits and collect witness statements that can back up your story or claims.

4. Prepare Your Testimony

Work closely with your attorney to prepare your testimony. Practice speaking clearly and truthfully about your situation and why you seek relief. Also, review your application, but do not try to memorize it.

When you give your testimony, it should be consistent but not rehearsed. You should be prepared for both direct and cross-examination questions. Try to anticipate what might be asked with the guidance of your attorney.

5. Understand the Removal Proceedings

Make sure to understand the hearing format, including how evidence is presented, and witnesses are examined. It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with these aspects for a successful hearing. If you’re not confident with your English language skills, don’t hesitate to request an interpreter.

What to Expect at an Immigration Individual Hearing?

Gavel next to immigration law book

If you want to be prepared, you should know what happens at an individual hearing in immigration court during the removal proceedings.

  1. At the start, the immigration judge introduces themselves and outlines the purpose of the proceedings. The judge may also indicate the type of relief you seek. For example, asylum, cancellation of removal, or adjustment of status.
  2. The judge will ensure the submission of all necessary documentation and translations to ensure everything is done correctly. Your attorney will be given one last chance to update your application and make changes before testimony.
  3. Attorneys may make opening statements during an immigration hearing in immigration court, although it is not always required. These statements serve as a summary of what they aim to prove in the case.
  4. When giving direct testimony, you will provide an account of your situation, history, and the grounds for seeking relief.
  5. Your attorney will formally submit documentary evidence supporting your case, including affidavits, medical records, country condition reports, and other relevant materials.
  6. Witnesses may be called to provide testimony to help your case. They are subject to direct examination by your attorney.
  7. During the cross-examination process, the ICE attorney will have the chance to question you and any witnesses.
  8. The ICE attorney is entitled to present their case to challenge your eligibility for relief. They can provide evidence and call witnesses to counter your attorney’s arguments.
  9. Both attorneys can make closing arguments to summarize the main points of their cases. They will present reasons why you should or should not be granted relief.
  10. The judge’s decision can be made at the end of the immigration hearing in immigration court or at another scheduled hearing.

What Happens After an Individual Hearing in Immigration Court?

What happens after an individual hearing in immigration courts depends on the outcome of the merits hearing itself. If your case is denied, you can appeal the decision directly to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). This must be done within 30 days.

If the judge grants the relief requested, you can proceed with the next steps for your case. For example, if you sought asylum, you can apply for benefits like a work authorization. You can eventually pursue lawful permanent resident status (a green card).

Get the Support You Need

The immigration court process is complex and you need to stay prepared for all possible outcomes.

Need an immigration bond? Get help within minutes

Branch Office
  • Open 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. PST