By Attorneys Robert Reeves and Jeremiah Johnson

For many immigrants and their families, deportation is a frightening word, and rightfully so.  However, the more one knows about deportation, and how to stop it, the less scary the whole process can be.  Despite years of news of raids and detention, the Immigration Service cannot simply knock on your door and physically remove a person, or “deport” them from the United States.  Rather persons are protected by the law and have a right to appear before an Immigration Court.  Once in Immigration Court, during a process known as “removal proceedings,” a Government attorney will attempt to convince an Immigration Judge to order the alien removed.  

To begin the removal proceedings, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) will issue a “Notice to Appear” (“NTA”) charging an alien with being removable from the United States. There are many grounds for removing an alien from the United States including the commission of a crime, overstaying a non-immigrant visa, or even entering the United States without a visa. ICE may also issue an NTA if the alien misrepresented some material fact or used fraudulent documents in order to obtain an immigration benefit – even if the misrepresentation occurred many years ago.  Once the NTA is filed with the Immigration Court, the alien will be scheduled to appear for what is called a “Master Hearing” to determine the next steps.  This first hearing is critical for the alien and can set the foundation for either a successful defense or a disappointing result.

During these proceedings, an attorney with the Office of the Chief Counsel will represent ICE.  This government attorney is responsible for establishing the alien is removable from the United States.  Although an Immigration Judge will receive and weigh evidence from both the government attorney and the alien, the Immigration Judge will not prepare or present the alien’s case.  Fortunately, the alien has the opportunity, and the right, to obtain an attorney and contest whether in fact he is removable and if so whether there is any form of relief that will permit him to remain in the United States.  However, the alien is responsible for paying for their own attorney.

While some attorneys do the bare minimum in presenting a case, an experienced attorney will either deny the charges of removablity in what is known as a Contested Master Hearing or may seek relief from removal at an Individual Hearing – or both.  However, just because a person may be eligible for relief does not mean they will not be ordered removed (deported).  It is necessary to present sufficient documentary evidence and oral testimony to convince the Immigration Judge that the alien is eligible and deserving of that relief.  The evidence must clearly convince the Immigration Judge that the alien meets all the elements for the relief as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act.  The alien must also convince the Court to exercise favorable discretion and grant the relief by presenting additional evidence to show the Judge why, despite having overstayed or lied or committed a crime, he or she should be given a second chance at a life in America.

Given what’s at stake, choosing an attorney that can effectively represent you is paramount.  Statistics indicate that the majority of cases in immigration court are denied.  These statistics also show that aliens who were represented by counsel were more successful than those who attempted to represent themselves.  The reasons are obvious.  In addition to knowing what elements have to be proven, an experienced and knowledgeable attorney also knows the most effective way to present that evidence. A skilled attorney knows the most persuasive evidence to prove extreme or exceptional and extremely unusual hardship, knows how to present evidence of rehabilitation or good moral character, and knows how to present negative as well as positive facts. 

Since 1980, Reeves & Associates has been representing immigrants and their families, including those facing deportation.  Attorneys at Reeves & Associates are dedicated exclusively to the practice of immigration law. It may be tempting to try to save money and represent oneself in immigration court or choose an inexperienced lawyer, but the price of losing the case is much higher than the costs of a good attorney.  Regardless of the cost, you should not place your life and your family’s future in the hands of an inexperienced attorney.  In life it may be good to take risks, but in immigration it is not.  It is just not worth it.