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Apr 11, 2024 | Rommel H. Ojeda

Initial Immigration Court Appearance: How to Prepare

Asylum seekers have told Documented via WhatsApp that they missed their court date. An immigration lawyer explains what happens next.

Since the arrival of more than 180,000 asylum seekers in New York City, many migrants have reached out via Documented’s WhatsApp community to ask questions about seeking asylum in the United States. Many have sought pro-bono immigration lawyers to ask for advice, but, due to the high demand of legal services, have been unable to reach help. As a result, they told Documented that they missed their court dates. 

We spoke with immigration attorney Rebecca Press,  Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director at Co-Counsel NYC, to explain the purpose of the first court date and the repercussions of missing it.

This article, along with the quotes mentioned, are solely for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal assistance please see our list of Pro-bono Lawyers in New York

What happens during the first court appearance at an immigration court?

When an asylum seeker is put in removal proceedings, they are given a Notice to Appear (NTA), Form I-862. The form lists the date, time, and immigration court location where the asylum seeker (defendant) must show up. 

The first court meeting is a preliminary court meeting, Press said. “It is where the judge wants to make sure that the right person is there. That the name is correct. That the address is correct and they also want to know what the best language is.”

Press added that it is also where the defendant can let the judge know if they have an attorney or if they will need more time to find an attorney.  

When and how will I receive the Notice to Appear?

A NTA is often given to asylum seekers when they are released from custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  

What happens if I miss the first court date?

Missing the first immigration court appearance, and any court appearance in general,  is not recommended. A judge will issue an In Absentia Order, which places the defendant under removal proceedings if the individual was not present and is subject to removal.  

“If you don’t go to it, then you should assume that they have a deportation order,” Press said. 

Are there any circumstances that can be an exception to missing the court date?

If you missed the court appearance and are ordered to be removed, you will have to have extraordinary circumstances for why you missed the hearing: such as not receiving the notice to appear, or if you were detained, for example. “Not having a lawyer is not an excuse,” Press said, adding that people should always make sure the court date is correct in their NTA document. 

Do I need an attorney to go to immigration court? 

Press reiterated that people do not need an attorney to go to the meeting, and that not having an attorney is not an excuse to miss the court meeting.  “It’s a quick appearance and you should not be afraid to go.”

Can I attend my court hearing online? 

In some cases the hearing can be attended online, Press said. “The hearing notice will say like, your hearing is via the internet or your hearing is in person. And whatever it says is what they should do.”

Also Read: How to Change Your Address with Immigration Agencies

What if I want to change my immigration court venue?

If you moved out of the state in which your original hearing will be held, you can request to change your hearing to another immigration court. This process is known as Motion to Change Venue. More information on how to change venues can be found here. 

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