You’ve received a Notice to Appear (NTA) in immigration court. Does this mean that you need to start packing your bags and ready yourself for deportation?
A NTA is an official order that requires you to appear in court, and it is the start of the removal proceedings. However, it won’t automatically lead to deportation – especially if you fight back. Knowing what to do next is critical for your future.
Examine the Notice to Appear carefully
The NTA will contain a lot of the information you need to begin your defense strategy. It will tell you things like:
- The date of your first court hearing. It is essential that you attend this hearing. If you do not, the immigration judge can simply close your case and issue an in absentia order for your removal. This will set federal agents on your trail and can be very hard to overcome.
- Your identifying information. Make certain that you are the intended recipient of the NTA, and that your contact information is current. Even something that looks like a spelling mistake could indicate that you are not actually the person immigration is seeking.
- The reason for the NTA in the first place. Typically, NTAs are sent when you have overstayed your visa, applied for a status change and been denied due to fraud or misrepresentation, entered the country unlawfully in the first place or have committed a crime that is a deportable offense.
You may have an attorney at the hearing with you – but, unlike in a criminal proceeding, you will not be appointed one by the government. That means you must retain your own counsel – and this is definitely wise. With legal guidance, you may be able to:
- Persuade the authorities not to pursue deportation for humanitarian reasons
- Ask for post-conviction relief if your crime was minor or occurred long ago
- Ask for asylum or the right to make a voluntary departure (which preserves your ability to eventually return)
These are not the only potential defenses available to you, but you need to act quickly to best preserve your rights.