If you have applied for asylum or convention against torture (CAT) relief in the United States, the process to determine your eligibility for it can be complex and confusing. There are different levels of hearings, and there may be one, or there may be many. Before you begin the process in earnest, it may help to get an idea of what it is typically like.
The Master Calendar Hearing
The first experience many will have in the immigration system is the master calendar hearing. After receiving a notice to appear (NTA), you are scheduled for an initial hearing in front of a judge. A master calendar hearing is done to assess you and your case, but no legal determinations will be made right now. The judge will ask you questions, but mostly it is a chance to appear, to prove you are serious about obtaining legal status.
You will be called before a judge, usually by your Alien Registration Number (“A-number”) rather than your name. An interpreter will be provided if English is difficult for you—it is always best that you accept the help if you think you may need it, as a misinterpretation of the charges on the NTA can be a death blow to your chances at asylum if you give a wrong answer. Afterward, you will be required to admit or deny each charge on the NTA, and tell the judge what forms of relief you are seeking (asylum, voluntary departure, withholding of removal, CAT relief, et cetera).
The rest of the hearing typically has to do with scheduling. For example, if you need more time to prepare your evidence as to why you should be granted asylum, or if you do not yet have an attorney and want time to find one, you can ask for a continuance. Or, at times, some asylum applicants elect to have their case put on an expedited track, which means they must be ready within 180 days to present their case at an individual merits hearing.
The Individual Merits Hearing
Unlike the master calendar hearing, when you have an individual merits hearing, it is adversarial—in other words, you will be trying to argue your case (via your attorney) for why you should be granted relief, against a prosecutor who will try to argue that it should not be granted. You will present your story and your supporting witnesses’ stories and evidence in order to do this, and it is imperative that you know your story as well as you can. It is easy to confuse dates and names, but judges tend to be unforgiving if you do so; a simple mistake can sometimes appear to be made out of guilt. Generally, truthfulness and consistency are the traits you should be aiming to convey.
Very rarely, a Department of Homeland Security attorney who is prosecuting your case will stipulate as to certain points of your asylum claim (DHS is the parent agency of Immigration & Customs Enforcement). However, most of the time, you will have to present evidence on all your contentions. Witnesses and documents must be consistent, and even though an immigration judge is sometimes not the most patient or understanding person, you must not lose your temper.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will issue his or her verdict. You do have the right to appeal if you receive an unfavorable decision, but you may have to do so via your attorney and not in person, depending on your situation.
A Good Immigration Attorney Can Make The Difference
Going in front of the immigration court can be terrifying, and most people freely admit they need all the help they can get. The experienced Chicago immigration attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices LLC have been handling asylum claims for years, and know the ins and outs of the process. We will do our best to help you. Contact our offices today to discuss your options.
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