• What to Expect at a Merits Hearing in Immigration Court
  • January 30, 2009 | Author: J. Christopher Keen
  • Law Firm: Keen Law Offices, LLC - Orem Office

     Merits or Individual Hearing FAQ
     Is it necessary to renew the Biometrics before the individual hearing?
    If your Biometrics has expired you must get it renewed. The Biometrics are only good for 15 months so it may be likely that by the time you have your individual hearing your Biometrics will have expired and it will be necessary to have it renewed. We suggest that you schedule an appointment to renew your Biometrics 2-3 months before the scheduled date of the individual hearing. If you are not sure if your Biometrics needs to be renewed call our office and we will be able to tell you.
    Will I have to testify in court at the merits or individual hearing?
    Yes, you will likely have to "take the stand" and testify. In most cases, you have the burden to prove you are eligible for the relief you requested. You usually testify on your own behalf to establish this; the government attorney and the Immigration Judge will have the opportunity to cross examine you and ask you additional questions. Sequestration of witnesses:  Please be aware that there is a rule that all witnesses who will be testifying may have to leave the courtroom while the Respondent (client) is testifying. 
    Do I have to testify in English?
    If you speak English relatively well, we recommend you testify in English. The hearings go much faster and you make a better impression on the judge if you can speak English. If you need an interpreter, you have a legal right to one. The court will provide an interpreter in your native language at no expense to you. However, you cannot bring your own interpreter. If you are using the court interpreter, do not answer in English, do not answer before the interpretation is complete, and look at the person asking you the question, or look at the judge, do not look at the interpreter, while testifying.
    What else happens at an individual hearing?
    Individual hearings generally proceed by a review of your relief application, a review of all exhibits and their numbers, a brief discussion of the issues, possibly an opening statement, then presentation of witnesses. After each witness testifies he will be cross-examined by the Government attorney, and possibly will be asked further questions by the judge. After all the witnesses and evidence have been presented, the judge will allow each attorney to make a closing argument. In some cases, you, the respondent, may have an opportunity to speak to the judge, and you will discuss this with your attorney. Then, following the witnesses and evidence, the judge will make a decision to either grant or deny your case. 
    What should I wear to the individual hearing?
    You should look nice and you should feel comfortable. If you have a suit or other formal wear, and feel comfortable wearing it, then you should wear it. If you are not comfortable in a suit, wear clean, pressed clothes that you do feel comfortable in.
    How long will the hearing take?
    Usually hearings take 3 to 4 hours.
    Who should accompany me?
    Do not bring young children unless they will be testifying, after consultation with your attorney. Bring your witnesses and any family members who have legal immigration status as support. 
    What should I bring?
    Bring your identification, hearing notice, and any original documents and any other item the attorney instructs you to bring.
    What happens if I do not attend the individual hearing?
    Unless you or a very close relative is very sick, if you do not appear on time for your hearing, you will be ordered removed (deported) from the United States, you will lose any immigration appearance bond, become a fugitive, and may lose the opportunity to seek relief in the future. 
    What will happen between now and the time I have my hearing?
    You will be contacted by Keen Law Offices to review possible submission of additional documents and further case preparation. You will meet with the attorney over your case and prepare for direct examination (the attorney asks you questions) and to prepare for cross examination (the government attorney asks you questions). 
    Will I be arrested at the hearing if I lose? 
    Generally, even if you lose your case, you will not be arrested. However, if you are subject to the mandatory detention provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act because you have committed certain crimes, for instance, you may be detained. If you lose, you will have the right to file an appeal, and your case is not final until you have exhausted your right to appeal.
    Can I travel in the United States while my court case is pending?
    If you are released on a bond, carry a copy of the bond determination and your most recent Notice of Hearing. You are legally permitted to be in the United States until there is a final order of removal against you. 
    What happens if I lose?
    If the judge denies your application for relief, he will decide whether you are ordered removed (deported) or granted voluntary departure. If you are granted voluntary departure you will have to pay a voluntary departure bond within 5 days of the hearing. The lowest amount the judge can set the voluntary departure bond is $500. Keep in mind the bond could be more than $500. That money will be returned once you leave the United States. Be prepared to pay that bond in case you are granted voluntary departure. 
    As stated above, you can file an appeal if you lose, if you have legal grounds to do so. Discuss this with your attorney. You must file the appeal within 30 days to the Board of Immigration Appeals. Appeals can be costly, so you may want to prepare for the possible expense in case you do not prevail. 
    Can I work until my individual hearing?
    If you have work authorization, you may legally work while your court case is pending, even while your case is on appeal. 
    If I lose, will I still get my bond money back?
    As long as you comply with attendance at all court hearings, and appear at the request of immigration officers, you should receive your bond back after your case is terminated.