If you are referred to court, it means that you are in REMOVAL PROCEEDINGS, meaning the government is trying to deport you. It is critical that you find a lawyer to represent you in court. The Immigration Court will provide you with a list of legal providers. Sometimes it may be quite difficult to reach them by telephone, but RIF can help you in getting in touch with them.
You will be given a date to appear at the immigration court. The first time you appear, the appointment is called a MASTER CALENDAR. It is okay if you haven’t yet found a lawyer by this first date. You can tell the judge that you need more time to find a lawyer and he or she will give it to you. You might have two or three master calendar appointments before the judge gives you a date for your individual hearing. At your individual hearing you will be asked many questions by your attorney, the government lawyer (called the Trial Attorney or TA) and by the judge. Often the judge will decide the case on the very same day as the individual hearing. Sometimes the judge needs more time to think and he or she will schedule another hearing for you to come back and hear the decision.
It is important to understand that the trial attorney represents the government. Often this means that he is trying to win the case, meaning he wants the judge to deny your case. This is not always the case, as many trial attorneys understand when a person has a strong case. It is simply important for you to understand that in representing the government, the trial attorney will ask you many questions about your history and experiences. The trial attorney is not your lawyer and therefore your best interest is not his or her priority. The judge is supposed to be objective and ask different questions in order to fully understand your history and story.
Who your judge is can make a big difference in your case. Some judges have a high rate of approval of asylum claims and some have a low rate. You can find out who your judge is by calling the following number: 1-800-898-7180. This number allows you to find out when your next court date is, who your judge is, and other information regarding your court process. If your attorney does not say anything about your judge, please ask.
Other Forms of Relief that can be Granted at the Immigration Court
As discussed above, granting asylum is discretionary and the judge can take things other than your claim into account. However, withholding of removal and Convention Against Torture (CAT) relief are mandatory forms of relief.
What is withholding of removal and CAT?
If the judge determines that it is more likely than not that you will be tortured or suffer inhuman or degrading treatment as a punishment if returned to your home country, he or she cannot send you back to your country. The standard for granting withholding is tougher than asylum – for asylum you do not have to show that persecution is more likely than not. If you are granted withholding of removal, this means that you can work and live freely in the United States; however, you are ineligible for a green card and cannot travel outside of the United States. Winning withholding does not prevent you from adjusting your status, or getting a green card, in another way, such as marriage to a United States citizen. CAT relief is also a form of mandatory relief and means that you cannot be sent back home. If the immigration judge determines that there is a 50% or greater chance that you will be tortured if returned to your home country, he must grant you relief under the CAT. (It is very important that your lawyer explains to you all these complicated differences! If you feel that your lawyer is not explaining this clearly, please contact RIF).
Work Authorization while in Court Proceedings
Some applicants are able to apply for a work authorization while waiting for their individual hearings. Figuring out who is eligible can be a little confusing, so please speak with your attorney about this before applying.
Who is Eligible?
There is something known as “the clock” in court proceedings. The clock counts the days from the time you are referred to court until the date you get a decision from the judge. If the clock reaches 150 days, you can apply for a work authorization. This might seem simple and uncomplicated, but the clock can and is stopped at many times. The clock is stopped if you ask the judge for more time to prepare your case. The clock continues to run if it is the government who causes delay in the process. So, for example, if you go to your first master calendar appointment and tell the judge that you need more time to find a lawyer, the clock stops. It has counted the days from the time you were referred to court until the date of your master calendar. The clock will restart on the date of your next master calendar if you are ready to proceed. The clock always continues to run if, for example, the government needs more time because it cannot locate your file, or if the judge, on the date of your first master calendar, gives you a date for your individual hearing that is more than 150 days away.
You can find out how much time you have on your clock by calling 1-800-898-7180.
Once again it is very important that your lawyer explains this clearly to you.