By Olsa Alikaj-Cano, Senior Attorney
Going to court is scary. Going to immigration court can be even scarier because, if you lose, then you could be detained and removed from the United States. For some people who are fearful of returning to their country, it could also mean death or murder upon returning to their country. What can you do to help yourself or others who find themselves with a Notice to Appear in immigration court? Here are some simple steps to help calm some (but likely not all) of your fears.
- Check and double check your hearing notice. Make sure you record the date and know when and where to go for your court hearing. Showing up late, even if due to getting lost, traffic or parking, could mean your case is closed for failing to appear. Failure to appear could have very serious consequences, such as removal from the U.S. or extra time and money to reopen the case, even if you do have a good case.
- Find a good immigration attorney before your hearing. Unlike in criminal court, the government is not required to provide you an attorney. Lack of appointed counsel may have a profound impact on your case. According to a report done by the American Immigration Council and released September 2016, detained immigrants with representation were twice as likely as unrepresented immigrants to obtain immigration relief. So, look for a good if not very good immigration attorney before your hearing.A good immigration attorney can advise you on whether you have any options and, if you do, what those options are for relief in court. For some, for example, the only option may be removal or voluntary departure, but for or others it could be lawful permanent residency (green card) in the United States. If you don’t have options, it would be helpful for you to know that in advance so that you can adjust your expectations, create your strategy and not waste your money. If you would like, get a second opinion just as you would if a doctor gives you an opinion that you are unsure of or want confirmed. Be honest and forthcoming with your immigration attorney. The attorney can’t help you if you don’t tell her everything, even if it is embarrassing or emotionally difficult to discuss.
- Avoid “notarios” or notaries. Notaries are not attorneys, and their assistance can significantly hinder your case. If it is the first time you appear before the Court and you wish to obtain counsel you can request a continuance in order to obtain an attorney.
Finding a good and experienced immigration attorney to represent you could not only help you calm some of your fears and help you and your family plan ahead, but give you a better chance to obtain immigration relief.