When is an Immigration Judge’s Decision Final?

All immigration court hearings are stressful for those facing deportations. It does not matter if someone has just arrived months ago or spent years building a life in the United States, the decision can undo plans and dreams.

Each immigration case is unique, which can create a lot of confusion for those awaiting a decision and attempting to prepare a case to stay in the country. Cases can take years to resolve and rely on specific legal decisions based on certain circumstances. There are a lot of factors that come into play in deciding someone’s status. Oftentimes, the first decision will not be the last.

Like most aspects of the judicial system, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put immigration courts behind their traditional schedule. Many courts were closed for months, which put the normally prolonged process on even longer delays. While this has offered more time to those awaiting hearings, do not expect this cushion to last. Take this time to prepare for appearances and be ready, especially as hearings can be rescheduled in short notice.

When Do Proceedings Begin?

Proceedings usually begin when an individual receives a Notice to Appear (NTA) from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s chief counsel office. This usually means the government has reason to deport, which will be detailed in the NTA. There may be months or years between receiving the NTA and a scheduling of the first hearing. It is on the respondent to verify correct mailing addresses and update if moving. Anyone detained by immigration authorities will have the hearing scheduled quickly.

Once the hearing has been scheduled, it is important for any respondent to show up for all of them, especially the first. If someone misses one, it could lead a judge to rule a removal in absentia from the United States and forfeiture of any future immigration benefits.

When will My Case be Resolved?

There are around 60 United States immigration courts, handling certain regions. Cases may take multiple hearings over weeks and months. A respondent may go before multiple judges in the process. In certain circumstances, like a denial of asylum, respondents can resolve the situation in one hearing.

The first hearing to start the process is the master calendar hearing. This takes around 15 minutes and will address any initial concerns, like a change of venue or if the respondent has no representation. Respondents can also file challenges to the NTA and request the proceedings stop or submit an application for relief with supporting evidence.

If either side presents matters for the court to consider, this can warrant a continuance that may take months or years to resolve. If no such circumstances occur, the initial judge will call for an individual hearing, with a date and time determined that day. Respondents will receive written confirmation of that hearing before leaving the court.

Individual hearings are scheduled for one to four hours but can last longer, given the amount of evidence and testimony present. Both sides will make their cases, call any applicable witnesses, and give legal arguments. Most judges will render a decision in open court based upon the proceedings. In rare cases, the judge will continue proceedings and offer a written decision, like if a respondent has requested a visa not currently available. Those decisions could take years to resolve.

Can a Judge’s Decision be Appealed?

The individual hearing is the last one most respondents will face in traditional proceedings. However, this may not be the final decision. If a judge renders a decision in court, there are some choices to be made on how to proceed:

  • Waiving the right to appeal, which will end the proceedings.
  • Request the option to reserve appeal.
  • Filing the paperwork for an appeal in person.

Asking for the right to reserve appeal gives an opportunity to file with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which usually must be done within 30 days of a decision. Respondents can file appeals, even in detention cases. If an appeal is not filed before the deadline, the ruling will stand.

Aside from filing with the BIA, there are some other options for further pursuit. Respondents can file a motion to reopen, should the facts in the case change or new evidence appears. Also, if laws change or one side thinks the ruling is incorrect, there can be a motion to reconsider. While the two handle the same function, they have different requirements. These motions would go before the original judge unless they are filed alongside action with the BIA. If the motion fails, the filed appeal remains valid and will be considered.

Outside of these options, there are a few instances where respondents may file for a waiver for relief. Non-native English speakers without representation might be able to ask for reconsideration if they did not understand the meaning of “final” with the judge’s ruling.

There are some considerations when deciding to file appeals or motion to continue immigration proceedings:

  • Do the facts of the case warrant a second look at the judge’s decision?
  • Are the costs associated too great to pursue an appeal?
  • If in detention, is continuing that in the best interest?
  • Have situations changed here that alter the availability of relief or benefits?
  • Would leaving the United States be in the respondent’s best interest?

It can be difficult to process all this information and try to make a decision within the 30-day window provided for filing appeals. Some contingency planning before the individual hearing or before a written decision is rendered can go a long way.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Protect the Rights of Immigrants

The process of fighting a deportation attempt can be long and very difficult. With so much riding on the decision, having an experienced partner can make the difference. The Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can serve as your advocate and work with you. Call us at 215-925-4435 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Based in Philadelphia, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.