What Happens in a Merits Hearing in an Immigration Case


A merits hearing is the most important part of the removal proceeding for a non-citizen. It gives the non-citizen a chance to present arguments directly to an immigration judge and defend his or her right to remain in the country.

Failure to make a valid case is likely to end with the immigrant being deported.

Before attending the merits hearing, which is also called an individual hearing, the immigration judge must read the Notice to Appear (NTA) out loud to the immigrant or his or her immigration attorney. The immigrant must state whether they admit or deny each allegation and whether they agree to or refute the charge or charges of removability or inadmissibility

The parties must agree on the allegations. The immigration judge will then decide if there is enough evidence to deport the immigrant. The judge will ask for the reasons why the person in question should be deported.


What happens in an immigration merits hearing

Often an immigrant will be put into removal proceedings even when there are valid reasons why he or she may stay in the country.

It’s, therefore, important to have an experienced Texas cancellation of removal lawyer to represent you and to find potential reasons why you should not be removed.

Once the allegations are agreed upon by all parties and the immigration judge decides there is sufficient evidence to find an immigrant removable or inadmissible as charged, the immigrant will be asked what form of relief from removal he or she is seeking.

Even if the immigration judge decides the immigrant is removable as charged in the Notice to Appear, he or she can legally remain in the country if a valid defense to the charges can be presented.

Common defenses include cancellation of removal, asylum, marriage to a U.S. citizen, or prosecutorial discretion.

An immigrant should have identified what type of relief to apply for by the time the Merits Hearing is held.

The immigration judge will have instructed the non-citizen to submit his or her application for relief along with all supporting documents to the court and to send a copy to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by a certain date.

A failure to submit all forms of relief, supporting documents and fees by the date ordered by the judge will result in the non-citizen being removed from the country before the merits hearing.

In recent years, the wait for an immigration hearing has increased dramatically and the courts have struggled with the workload.

As of the end of April 2017, the number of cases waiting for a decision reached an all-time high of 585,930.

On average individuals are waiting 670 days, and may wait considerably longer before their cases are heard. Nine courts account for a quarter of the national backlog requiring some people to wait for more than four additional years before a hearing is scheduled.

In San Francisco, the immigration court has 42,000 backlogged cases. Some individuals have waited more than five additional years, equating to 1,908 days longer for a July 21, 2022 hearing date. We noted on our blog how Texas has one of the largest immigration backlogs.

If you are facing possible deportation, please contact our Austin immigration lawyers at  (512) 399-2311.

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