Immigration Court Process, Including Appeals and Deportation Orders

If you have a case in immigration court, you can apply for asylum by submitting an asylum application to the court. This is sometimes called the “defensive” asylum process. If you want to pursue your case, it is important to attend all of your immigration court hearings. While your case in immigration court is pending, you cannot be deported.

Scroll down or click on the links below to read questions and answers from the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP).

How do I know if I have a case in immigration court?

Read here if you are not sure if you have a case in immigration court.

What are the steps of the asylum process in immigration court?

If you have a case in immigration court, you can apply for asylum by submitting an asylum application (Form I-589) to the immigration court and attending all your court hearings. The immigration court sends important information by mail, so it is important to update your address if you move!

Here are the general steps of the immigration court process:

  1. U.S. government officials should give you a Notice to Appear (“NTA”). Keep it in a safe place.
  2. Check the immigration court system every week to learn when you have your first court hearing scheduled. The first hearing is called a “master calendar hearing” and is usually very short. You may have more than one master calendar hearing depending on your situation (for example, if you ask for more time to find an attorney).
  3. Attend all your immigration court hearings. If you miss a hearing, you will most likely receive a deportation order.
  4. Submit your asylum application (Form I-589) to the immigration court, within one year of the date you arrived in the United States. You can ask the immigration court to give you a stamped copy of the first page to save for your records, although this is not required.
  5. Submit a copy of the first three pages of your asylum application to USCIS. USCIS should mail you a receipt notice for your asylum application.
  6. USCIS should then mail you a notice for a biometrics appointment to collect your fingerprints. Go to your biometrics appointment.
  7. Apply for a work permit. ASAP members can apply for a work permit 150 days after they submit their asylum applications.
  8. After receiving your asylum application, the immigration court should schedule an “individual hearing.” This is a longer hearing to explain more about your asylum case.
  9. Submit evidence in writing to support your asylum case before your individual hearing. The immigration judge should tell you a deadline for doing this.
  10. Go to your individual hearing and present your asylum case.

After the individual hearing, the immigration judge will decide whether or not to grant asylum. The judge may tell you their decision during the hearing, or you might receive the decision in the mail. If the immigration judge grants you asylum, you and any family members that you included in your asylum application will receive asylum. If an immigration judge decides not to grant you asylum, you can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals within 30 days.

How long does the immigration court process take?

The length of an immigration court case can vary a lot. If you apply for asylum, your case can sometimes take several years to be completed. Other times, it can take less than one year. The length of time your case takes does not mean anything about whether or not you will win asylum.

It is important to remember that you cannot be deported while your case is still pending. However, if you miss an immigration court hearing, you will most likely receive a deportation order. Please remember to check your case status, keep your address updated, and attend all hearings.  If you would like help with your case, you can look for legal assistance here.

When is my next hearing in immigration court?

To find out when and where you have your next hearing and what type of hearing it is, you can check the immigration court system. You should keep checking every week to make sure you know when your next hearing will be. You can either call the court’s automated hotline using your phone, or check your case status online. Watch this video, or look at this flyer for detailed instructions.

To call the immigration court’s automated hotline, call 1-800-898-7180. Press 1 for instructions in English or 2 for instructions in Spanish. Enter your A Number when asked. Enter 1 to confirm that your A Number is correct. If the system then spells out your name, that means your information is in the system. Enter 1 to confirm your name. Next, press 1 to check when your next hearing is and what type of hearing it is.

To check the immigration court system online, go to the website acis.eoir.justice.gov. Enter your A Number and click “Submit.” If the next page shows your name, that means your information is in the system. You should be able to see when your next hearing is and what type of hearing it is, under “Next Hearing Information.”

If you try the options above but you are confused, you can also try calling your specific immigration court. You can find the contact information for immigration courts here.

Finally, you should also receive a hearing notice with the date and address of your next hearing. Your first hearing notice will be mailed to the address that the immigration court has for you. If you moved to a different address, make sure to update your address.

Please note, during the COVID-19 pandemic, your immigration court may close or your hearing may get rescheduled suddenly. You can find the latest updates on this immigration court website.

What should I do if my information is in the immigration court hotline or website but there is no upcoming hearing listed in my case?

If you call the immigration court hotline or check the online system and your case is in the system but there is no hearing listed, it is important to check your case status immediately!

Check your case status at acis.eoir.justice.gov. Or check the automated hotline by calling 1-800-898-7180: press 1 for instructions in English or 2 for instructions in Spanish, enter your A Number when asked, enter 1 to confirm your A Number, enter 1 to confirm your name, and press 3 to check your case status. Watch this video, or look at this flyer for detailed instructions.

If the system says that your case is pending, but you do not have an upcoming hearing, you should keep checking the system every week to make sure you do not miss any hearings or information. You can also try calling your specific immigration court. You can find the contact information for immigration courts here.

If the system says that the immigration judge ordered removal, and you never had an individual hearing, you most likely received a deportation order because you missed a hearing. But there are still actions you can take! Read more here about your options after receiving a deportation order. You may also want to find legal help.

If the system says that the immigration judge ordered removal, and you already had your individual hearing, that most likely means the judge made a negative decision on your asylum case. But you can continue to fight your case and appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) within 30 days of the decision! You cannot be deported while your appeal is pending.

Finally, if you have questions, you can also try calling your immigration court.

What should I do if my case is not on the immigration court hotline or website at all?

If you check the immigration court system and your information cannot be found, there are a few steps you can take.

First, keep checking the immigration court system every week! Sometimes it takes several months or more for your information to appear in the system.

Second, check your documents for a “Notice to Appear” (NTA). Some NTAs include a date and location for your first court hearing. If your NTA lists an immigration court and the date for your first hearing, call the immigration court to confirm that you have a hearing scheduled that day. You can find the contact information for immigration courts here. If you are not able to confirm with the immigration court before the scheduled hearing date, you should plan to attend the hearing on that date

If you do not have an NTA and your information is not in the system, you may not have an immigration court case and you may be able to apply for asylum with USCIS instead. Read here if you are not sure if you have an immigration court case.

Third, if you have been in the United States for close to one year, you can submit your asylum application (Form I-589) to USCIS. In general, asylum seekers must apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States. However, if your information is not in the system yet, the immigration court will likely reject your asylum application when you try to submit it. So, you can submit it to USCIS instead. This will ensure you do not miss the one-year deadline. It can also help you apply for a work permit faster.

After you submit your asylum application to USCIS, it is most likely that USCIS will then send your application to the immigration court and the immigration court will schedule you for a first hearing.

Read more about how to complete and submit an asylum application (Form I-589).

How do I contact my immigration court?

You can find the contact information for immigration courts here. If you are not sure what your immigration court is, you can find it on your Notice to Appear.

Sometimes it is very hard to reach somebody when you call an immigration court. You should keep trying.

If you have moved and need to update your address with immigration court, you can submit Form E-33. Read more about updating your address here.

What will happen during my first hearing in immigration court?

During your first hearing, the judge should ask you some initial questions about your case, and schedule you for your next hearing. The first hearing is usually very short.

It is very important to attend your first hearing in immigration court! If you do not go, an immigration judge will likely give you a deportation order.

If you do not have an attorney, you can ask the judge for more time to find a lawyer, if you would like. It is not necessary to bring a lawyer to the hearing. If you do have a lawyer, you can talk to your lawyer about your specific case.

You must bring your children to your first hearing if your children are included in your case. During the first hearing, ask the judge if you need to bring your children to your next hearing. You must continue to bring your children to each hearing until the judge says you do not have to bring them.

This first hearing is also known as a “master calendar hearing.” Depending on your case, you may have just one master calendar hearing, or you may have multiple master calendar hearings.

Watch this video about your first hearing, or this video with general advice about your hearings in immigration court. You can also watch this video from another organization about master calendar hearings.

What will happen during my next master calendar court hearings?

Depending on your case, you might have multiple other “master calendar” hearings after the first hearing. These master calendar hearings are usually very short, and the immigration judge will ask you initial questions. You normally do not discuss the details of your asylum case during a master calendar hearing. The next step after the master calendar hearings is an individual hearing, when you explain your asylum case.

The most important thing is to go to these immigration court hearings! If you do not go to a hearing, an immigration judge can give you a deportation order.

If you do not have a lawyer, you can ask the judge for more time to find a lawyer. You can still do this even if you had already asked the judge for more time to find an attorney during your first hearing. The judge may ask you what efforts you made to find an attorney, so you should come prepared with an answer. For example, you can bring a written list of all the places you have called to look for representation. If you do have a lawyer, you can talk to your lawyer about your specific case.

If you asked the judge during the first hearing if you needed to bring your children to your hearings, and the judge said no, then you do not need to bring your children to the hearing.

But if the judge did not tell you whether or not you needed to bring your children, then it is better for you to go with your children, if your children are included in your case. During the hearing, you can ask the judge if you have to bring your children to the next hearing. You must bring your children with you until the judge says you do not have to bring them.

If you are ready, you can submit your asylum application (I-589) during your hearing. If you are not ready yet, you can submit it later, at another master calendar hearing, by mail, or at the immigration court window. If you want to seek asylum, please make sure you submit the application within one year of arriving in the United States.

You can watch this video about your master calendar hearings, or this video with general advice about your hearings in immigration court.

What will happen during my merits or individual hearing?

The individual hearing is also known as the merits hearing. During this hearing, you will present your asylum case to the judge. You will explain your story and your reasons for seeking asylum. You may also present evidence such as documents and witnesses to support your case. Based on this hearing, the immigration judge will decide if you will be granted asylum. You can watch this video about individual hearings.

Many people refer to the merits hearing as the last court hearing, however, the merits hearing is not always the last court hearing.

If you can, it is very helpful to find a lawyer who can represent you during this hearing. The results of past asylum cases suggest that it can be very difficult to win asylum in immigration court without legal help.

If you cannot find a lawyer to represent you at your individual hearing, you can represent yourself. Read more here about how to prepare evidence for your case. These resources from other organizations can help you prepare for your individual hearing: Guide 1 and Guide 2.

Remember that if the judge denies your case during the merits hearing, you still have the right to fight that decision by appealing your case to the Board of Appeals (BIA). You cannot be deported while your appeal is pending. But you must take the first step and start your appeal process within 30 days of the judge’s decision!

What happens if the judge grants asylum?

If the immigration judge grants you asylum, congratulations! You have successfully completed a very difficult part of the process.

It is possible that the government could appeal the immigration judge’s decision to the BIA. They must file a notice of appeal within 30 days after the judge’s decision. You should check your case status for the next 30 days to see if the government has filed an appeal.

If the government files an appeal, you will need to continue with the appeal process. The BIA should send you a notice in the mail with information about the deadline for submitting your written arguments. It can be very helpful to have a lawyer to prepare your written arguments. If you do not have a lawyer and you would like one, you can search for a lawyer here.

If the government does not appeal, the judge’s order will become final and you and your family members that you included in your application will receive asylum. You can apply for a work permit that shows that you won asylum. You can apply for permanent residence (also known as a green card) a year later. You can also apply to bring your spouse and children who are abroad to the United States to join you. Learn more about what happens after winning asylum.

What can I do if the judge denies my asylum case? How do I appeal?

First, it is important to know that your case does not have to end here! If the immigration judge denies your asylum case, you still have the right to fight back against this decision by appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”). You have to take the first step within 30 days of the judge’s decision, and then you cannot be deported while your appeal is pending. However, if you decide not to appeal the case, your deportation order will become final and you could be deported.

Watch this video for more information about the appeal process.

Here are the steps of the appeal process:

  1. You must take the first step within 30 days of the immigration judge’s decision. The first step to appeal your case is to fill out and submit a Notice of Appeal (Form EOIR-26). You do not need an attorney to fill out this form. This form requires a fee of $110. If you cannot afford the fee, you should complete a Fee Waiver Request (Form EOIR-26A) and submit it at the same time as your Notice of Appeal.To know the date of your 30-day deadline, you can check the immigration court system online or by phone. If you want to check online, you can enter your A Number on this website. If you want to check by phone, you call the immigration court hotline at 1-800-898-7180. Press 1 for English or 2 for Spanish. When asked, enter your A number and press 4 to hear the date by which they will need to receive your Notice of Appeal.
  2. Check the immigraton court system to make sure the BIA received your Notice of Appeal. To confirm that the BIA received your notice of appeal, you can enter your A Number on this website, or call the automated case information hotline at 1-800-898-7180, press 1 for English, enter your A Number, and then press 4 to hear the date when your Notice of Appeal was received. Or you can call the BIA directly at 1-703-605-1007.
  3. Prepare your written arguments. The next step in the appeal process is to prepare written arguments. The BIA should send you a notice in the mail with information about the deadline for submitting your written arguments. It can take several months for this notice to arrive, but you should start preparing as soon as you can. The BIA should also send you a written record of your immigration court case, including a script of what happened at your court hearings.
    If you move, submit Form E-33 to update your address with the BIA so that you receive this important mail. You can also check the immigration court system online or by phone again to find out the deadline for submitting your written arguments.It can be very helpful to have a lawyer to prepare your written arguments. If you do not have a lawyer, you can search for a lawyer here. If you are unable to find an attorney to represent you in your appeal, you can still move forward and represent yourself.

If the Board Immigration Appeals (BIA) denies my appeal, what can I do?

If the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denies your appeal, it is possible to appeal this decision to a federal court. Sometimes it is also possible to ask that the BIA reconsider its decision. This process is complicated and it is helpful to find a lawyer.

If you decide to appeal before a federal court, you must submit the first document (called a “petition for review”) for the appeal within 30 days of the BIA’s decision. If you do that, you can also ask the court to stop the government from deporting you while your case is pending, but there is no guarantee that the court will approve that request.

I missed my immigration court hearing. What can I do?

If you missed an immigration court hearing, you most likely received a deportation order. But do not give up! There are steps you can take to try to reopen your case.

First, it is important to check the immigration court system online or by phone to confirm. To check online, enter your A Number on this website. To check by phone, call 1-800-898-7180, press option 1 for English and put in your A number. Press 1 to confirm your A number, press 1 to confirm your name, and then press 3 to check the status of your case.

If the system says that you received a deportation order, it is still possible to try to reopen your case. You will need to file a document called a “motion to reopen” with the immigration court.

If you want to try to reopen your case, it is important to begin this process immediately. A motion to reopen can take time to prepare. And it is more likely that you will be able to reopen your case if you file your request within 6 months of the hearing you missed.

Filing a motion to reopen your case can be a complicated process, and you may wish to seek help from a lawyer. Search for a lawyer here. If you decide to file a motion to reopen without a lawyer, you can use this template motion to reopen from the immigration court. 

I have a deportation order but I did not miss any of my immigration court hearings. What can I do?

If you have a deportation order that is NOT because you missed an immigration court hearing, you can talk to a lawyer to see if it is possible to reopen your case. You can search for a lawyer here.

What does it mean to close my case in immigration court?

Closing a case in immigration court means that you no longer have an open immigration court case and you are no longer at risk of deportation at this time. Sometimes it is possible to ask the immigration judge to close your case, but this can be a complex decision depending on your specific circumstances.

The biggest benefit of closing a case is that you will no longer be at risk of deportation. If you are applying for another form of relief with USCIS (such as a U visa or family petition), closing your immigration court case can give you more time while you wait for USCIS to make a decision on your other application.

The biggest disadvantage of closing a case is that generally, you cannot continue with your asylum case in immigration court. Because you are no longer continuing with your case, there is no possibility of winning asylum.

You may wish to find an attorney who can help you make a decision that is best for your circumstances. Even if you decide to ask the immigration judge to close your case, the judge may deny your request.

There are two ways that a case in immigration court can be closed:

  1. Permanent closure, which is called “termination”: An immigration judge may terminate your case if the government made serious mistakes in your documents, if you are eligible for citizenship, or if the government attorney agrees to terminate your case. Once your case is terminated, it is unlikely that another case will be started against you in the future. If you have another application pending with USCIS, you can continue with that process.
  2. Temporary closure, which is called “administrative closure”: An immigration judge may agree to administratively close your case for specific reasons. For example, the judge may close your case to give you more time to pursue another application with USCIS. Or, the judge may close your case just because the government attorney agrees. If a judge agrees to administratively close your case, they will take your case out of the system for now, but your case could be re-opened in the future.

Note: This page is for adults who are interested in seeking asylum in the United States. Our hope is that you will use the information to better understand the asylum process and take control of your case. However, this information is not a substitute for legal advice about your particular case. To look for legal assistance, visit ASAP’s find help page

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