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What Happens When I Get Placed Into Deportation Proceedings?

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Being placed in deportation proceedings inspires deep fear for many immigrants, leaving them unsure of what to do. Legally called “removal,” the deportation process begins with the government deciding you are deportable. It notifies you of the reasons it thinks you are deportable and provides you a chance to defend against deportation.

You do not have to face removal proceedings alone. Reach out to the Law Office of Rosina C. Stambaugh. We have years of experience defending immigrants against deportation. We can help you understand what is happening, what your options are, and what is likely to happen in a straightforward, compassionate manner.

How Do Deportation Proceedings Work?

If you are already in the U.S., you are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge (IJ) to defend against deportation charges. You may or may not be detained before the hearing. If ICE detains you, you may be able to request the government release you on bond.

However, if you are placed in removal proceedings while attempting to cross the border, the government typically detains you and expedites your case without granting you a hearing.

Notice to Appear

Proceedings begin with the government serving a Notice to Appear (NTA). On the NTA, the government explains the legal reasons it is attempting to deport you. The NTA should also provide a date, time, and location for a court hearing.

Master Calendar Hearing

This first court hearing is known as your master calendar hearing (MCH), which usually lasts around 15 minutes. You have the right to have an attorney at your MCH. If you are unable to find one soon enough, you may be able to request the hearing be moved to a later date.

At the MCH, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorney briefly explains the charges against you. Then you can state defenses to removal or request relief.

Next, the IJ should ensure you know what is happening and that you have an attorney if you want one. Finally, the IJ schedules your next hearing, which may be months or even years later depending on the judge’s schedule and whether ICE detains you.

Individual Hearing

After the MCH, you attend an individual hearing, also known as a merits hearing. Here, you and ICE present your legal cases before the IJ in a trial-like process. Depending on how complicated the case is, the individual hearing may take multiple days. A second individual hearing will be scheduled if you need more time.

Once the hearing ends, the IJ will make a deportation decision. The IJ might issue an order of removal or an order granting you the right to stay in the U.S.


If the judge does not grant the relief you believe you should have received, you can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA can affirm or reverse the IJ’s decision.

If the BIA rules against you, you can appeal two more times: to the circuit court where you reside or, in rare cases, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Expedited Removal

Those placed directly into removal proceedings without properly entering the U.S. are frequently subject to expedited removal. The expedited removal process allows the government to bypass most of the formal process, including the individual hearing. Requesting asylum and passing a credible fear screening is one of the few ways to prevent expedited removal.

Removal In Absentia

When the government has charged you with being deportable, failing to show up to court can result in a default judgment against you. In effect, not showing up is a way to concede that you are deportable. At that time, the judge can order you removed in your absence (in absentia).

Removals in absentia are difficult to undo, so it is crucial that you attend any scheduled hearings and show up on time.

Voluntary Departure

If you do not have strong legal defenses or do not want to fight the charges against you, you may have the option of voluntary departure. The government can choose whether to offer voluntary departure. If it does and you accept, you agree to leave the U.S. within a limited period. Taking voluntary departure can minimize the harshness of the consequences of removal, but you may be forbidden from returning to the U.S. for many years.

How Do I Know If I Am in Removal Proceedings?

If the government places you in removal proceedings, you will receive an NTA. It may be obvious that you are in removal proceedings if ICE takes you into custody. But if not, you may just discover the NTA in the mail without any other interaction with ICE.

Because NTAs often refer to legal provisions, confirming that a document you receive means you are in removal proceedings can be difficult. If you have received a document from ICE or a similar office and do not know what it means, reach out to an immigration attorney. They can interpret the document to help you determine what to do next.

How Do I Get Out of Removal Proceedings?

If you want to fight removal, speak to an attorney with removal defense experience as soon as possible. Examples of potential removal defenses include:

Your lawyer can help determine what defenses you may have, prepare written documents, and make legal arguments on your behalf.

Please reach out to the team at the Law Office of Rosina C. Stambaugh if you have been placed in deportation proceedings or suspect you may have been. The sooner you meet with a lawyer, the sooner you can figure out your next steps.

Author Photo

Rosina Stambaugh

Rosina C. Stambaugh, founder of The Law Office of Rosina C. Stambaugh in York, brings a wealth of expertise to immigration law. With a focus on removal defense, Ms. Stambaugh has successfully litigated cases across various Immigration Courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, offering comprehensive support to clients facing diverse immigration challenges. She also represents individuals and families applying for affirmative benefits with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.

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