The Notice to Appear and the Start of Legal Proceedings in Immigration Court
The Notice to Appear (NTA) is the official document that starts removal proceedings against a foreign national. It will require them to appear in immigration court for the initial Master Calendar hearing. You may receive an NTA by mail or in person, or it may be sent to your attorney. A foreign national will be allowed at least 10 days between receiving the NTA and going to their first court hearing, although you can waive this requirement. (Many foreign nationals waive the requirement if they are being held in a detention facility and cannot arrange for release on bond.)
Before you go to the hearing, you should review the NTA to make sure that you understand it and are prepared to correct any mistakes on it. For example, if your name or address is incorrect, you should correct the error so that you can receive mail regarding your case.
Information on the Proceedings and Allegations
The immigration official who completed the NTA will have checked one of three boxes. These will state that you are an arriving alien, you are an alien present in the U.S. who has not been admitted or paroled, or you have been admitted to the U.S. but are removable. An arriving alien is someone who was stopped by immigration authorities at an entry point into the U.S. and has not yet been admitted. The second box applies mostly to undocumented immigrants, who entered without inspection. The last box applies to someone who previously held lawful status in the U.S. but may no longer hold that status. Perhaps they committed a certain type of crime, or perhaps they simply overstayed the period of a non-immigrant visa. If you feel that the wrong box is checked, you should explain the mistake to the judge and ask them to correct it.
Confirm the Correct Box Is Checked
It is important to make sure that the correct box is checked on the NTA; people classified as arriving aliens and aliens present in the U.S. without being admitted or paroled have fewer opportunities for recourse than those lawfully admitted.
The factual allegations in the NTA will state that you are not a U.S. citizen, and you are a citizen of your home country. They also will state the date and place for your entry or attempted entry into the U.S., as well as whether your entry was authorized and whether any time limit applied to it. Finally, the section on factual allegations will provide the facts supporting your removability. You will need to admit or deny each of the factual allegations in the NTA at the Master Calendar hearing.
The Charge of Removability
Below the statement of factual allegations, the NTA will provide the charge of removability. This is a formal way of stating the reason why you can be removed from the U.S. If you contest the charge, you will need to deny it at your Master Calendar hearing. You can then present your defense at the Merits hearing. The government attorney also will present their case for your removability in more detail. The immigration judge then will determine whether you are removable. If you are, you still may be able to make a defense to removal or seek other forms of immigration relief.
You can also choose to concede the charge of removability and focus on a defense to removal. This can be a smarter strategy if you do not have a legitimate argument against the charge, since the same judge will hear your opposition to the charge and your defense to removal.
The NTA often will provide the time and place of the Master Calendar hearing, but sometimes a foreign national will receive a separate Notice of Hearing with this information. You should make sure to show up in court when required, since you can be ordered removed in absentia if you do not appear. This may mean that you waive any defense to removal.
A foreign national may request a change of venue if a different immigration court would be more convenient.
You should review the rights listed on the NTA, which include your obligation to inform the immigration court if you change your address. You also must obey a court order of removal if this is eventually issued, or an order of voluntary departure if you obtain this type of order. The NTA will state that you have a right to an attorney in immigration court, but you do not have a right to a government-paid attorney, as you would in criminal court.
The NTA will contain a Certificate of Service. You can potentially buy time by raising any problems with the service of the NTA, although this probably will not permanently defeat the case.