The first formal stage of removal proceedings in immigration court is known as the Master Calendar Hearing. The immigration judge will not make a decision on the substance of the case at this hearing. Instead, they will confer with the foreign national and the government attorney to determine a schedule for the case. This may include deadlines for submitting evidence, as well as the date for the eventual Merits Hearing. You can bring an attorney to the Master Calendar Hearing. However, you will need to personally attend even if you have an attorney.
You should dress conservatively and behave respectfully at the hearing. It is critical to arrive on time to preserve any defenses or options for immigration relief. A judge can issue an order of removal in your absence if you do not appear promptly. You should allow extra time to pass through the security checkpoint. While you can bring family members, you should bring only family members who have legal status in the U.S. You should bring your identification documents, your Notice to Appear, and other documents that your lawyer believes would be useful.
Steps in the Master Calendar Hearing
The Master Calendar Hearing tends to be relatively brief. The judge will let you know when they are ready by calling your Alien Registration Number and your name. If you are not comfortable communicating in English, you should ask the judge for an interpreter. While you cannot bring your own interpreter, the court will provide an interpreter free of charge. You should make sure to wait until the interpreter has finished translating before responding to a question from the judge.
At the beginning of the hearing, the judge will confirm your identification information. You can correct any errors in the information stated on the Notice to Appear, and you can introduce your lawyer. Then, the judge will go through the charges on the NTA. (Read more here about this document.) You will need to admit or deny each charge, while correcting any errors in the factual allegations on the NTA. Also, you will need to decide which types of immigration relief you will be seeking, such as cancellation of removal, voluntary departure, or asylum.
Once they have finished reviewing the NTA, the judge will set the dates for the submission of any further evidence, any additional Master Calendar Hearing that may be needed, and the eventual Merits Hearing. The date of the next hearing will appear on a notice that you receive at the end of the Master Calendar Hearing. You can ask for a continuance if you will not have enough time to gather your evidence and develop your arguments before the Merits Hearing. A foreign national also may want to request a continuance if they are still looking for an attorney or if they have not yet discussed their case with the attorney.
Additional Steps for Foreign Nationals Seeking Asylum
If you are seeking asylum, you will need to designate a country of removal that is not your home country. Also, you should apply for withholding of removal and Convention Against Torture relief if you are applying for asylum.
An applicant for asylum may be placed on an expedited removal schedule, which means that they will go through their Merits Hearing within 180 days of when they submitted their asylum application. You might want to waive expedited removal so that you have more time to build your case, although you will not have employment authorization during this time. However, you can waive expedited removal only if you are not in detention.