What Happens at a Master Calendar Hearing?

NOTE: The information contained on this page site is intended to educate the general public and is not intended to provide legal advice. To ensure proper handling of your individual situation, please call (703) 527-1779.

Typically, an alien arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be placed in removal proceedings. Depending on the circumstances, the detained alien may be released on bond before the hearing. The alien must be duly notified that he or she must attend removal hearing in the immigration court having jurisdiction over their area. There are two types of immigration hearings: a master calendar hearing and individual hearing.

This article will explain how the removal or deportation proceedings work and answer some of the basic questions about what happens at a master calendar hearing. We encourage you to talk to an experienced lawyer directly about your specific case in order to avoid any potential problems or complications.

How Does the Removal Proceeding Work?

Before the alien is placed in deportation proceedings, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must serve the alien with a charging document, called a Notice to Appear (NTA). The alien in removal/deportation proceedings is called the “respondent.” NTA orders the respondent to appear before an immigration judge and provides notice of the removal proceedings, the alleged immigration law violations, the ability to seek available free legal attorneys, and the consequences of failing to appear at scheduled hearings.

DHS must file the NTA with an immigration court having jurisdiction over the respondent’s location. There are currently 29 immigration courts located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington. Each immigration court handles cases for its geographical area, which sometimes encompasses several states.

When the immigration court receives the NTA from DHS, the court schedules a master hearing with an immigration judge. Typically, there are two hearings: a master hearing and an individual hearing. But there may be more than one hearing, depending on your situation.

Purpose of the “Master Calendar” Hearing

According to the Immigration Court Practice Manual, generally, when you are served with the NTA, your first appearance before an immigration judge in removal proceedings is at a master calendar hearing. The purpose of the master calendar hearing is to:

  • Advise you of the right to an attorney or other representative at no expense to the government;
  • Advise you of the availability of free and low-cost legal service providers and provide you with a list of such providers in the area where the hearing is being conducted;
  • Advise you of the right to present evidence;
  • Advise you of the right to examine and object to evidence and to cross-examine any witnesses presented by the Department of Homeland Security;
  • Explain the charges and factual allegations contained in the NTA to you in a non-technical (simple) language;
  • Take pleadings, i.e. the respondent goes through the NTA and admits or denies the allegations, and pleads for some form of relief from deportation, e.g. asylum.
  • Identify and narrow the factual and legal issues;
  • Set deadlines for filing applications for relief, briefs, motions, pre-hearing statements, exhibits, witness lists, and other documents;
  • Provide certain warnings related to background and security investigations;
  • Schedule hearings to adjudicate contested matters and applications for relief;
  • Advise you of the consequences of failing to appear at subsequent hearings;
  • Advise you of the right to appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Recording of the Master Calendar Hearing

When the master calendar hearing begins, the immigration judge records the hearing except for off-the-record discussions. The immigration judge verifies basic identity and contact information as well as details of the proceeding.

Interpreter

If your primary language is not English, you must request for an interpreter before the master hearing begins. Interpreters are free because they are provided at government’s expense.

If You Do Not Have an Attorney (“Pro Se”)

If you do not have an attorney (“pro se”) at a master calendar hearing, the immigration judge advises you of your hearing rights and obligations, including the right to be represented at no expense to the government. You may waive the right to be represented and choose to proceed without an attorney. Alternatively, you may request that the immigration judge continue the proceedings to another master calendar hearing in order to give you an opportunity to obtain an attorney or representation. There is no right to a free attorney in deportation/removal proceedings.

If You Have an Attorney 

If you have an attorney, your attorney should file Notice of Appearance, any routinely submitted documents such as the Alien’s Change of Address Form, advise you of your eligibility for a form of relief, prepare your applications for reliefs and timely file with the DHS and Immigration Court, prepare you for your individual hearing, find experts and additional evidence in support of your case, and attend your individual hearing to present your case and to make arguments or file briefs in support of your case.

You Must Arrive On Time

You (and your attorney) must arrive at the immigration court prior to the set time for the master calendar hearing. Once you arrived at the immigration court, you should check in with the immigration court staff and sign in, if a sign-in sheet is available. Please keep in mind that you may encounter delays in passing through mandatory security screening prior to entering the court.

You Must Attend All Your Master Calendar Hearings in Person

You must attend all your master calendar hearings in person unless the immigration judge has granted a waiver of appearance for that hearing.

You or Your Attorney May Appear by Telephone

In certain circumstances, you or your attorney may appear by telephone at some master calendar hearings, at the immigration judge’s discretion. You can request for an appearance by telephone either by a written or oral motion. Once your request is approved or granted by the immigration judge, then you may appear by telephone. Otherwise, you must attend all your master calendar hearings in person. Telephonic appearances are liberally granted to attorneys, but very rarely to respondents.

Oral Pleadings

At the master calendar hearing, you and your attorney should be prepared:

  • To admit or deny service of the Notice to Appear;
  • To request or waive a formal reading of the Notice to Appear;
  • To request or waive an explanation of your rights and obligations in removal proceedings;
  • To admit or deny the charges and factual allegations in the Notice of Appear;
  • To designate or decline to designate a country of removal;
  • To state what applications for relief from removal, if any, your intend to file;
  • To identify and narrow the legal and factual issues;
  • To estimate (in hours) the amount of time needed to present the case at the individual calendar hearing;
  • To request a date on which to file the application(s) for relief, if any, with the immigration court;
  • To request an interpreter for the respondent and witnesses, if needed.

Written Pleadings

Instead of oral pleadings, the immigration judge may permit you and your attorney to file written pleadings. The written pleadings must be signed by you and your attorney. You must write the following in your written pleadings:

  • admit or deny that the NTA was properly served on you;
  • affirm that you understand your hearing rights;
  • confirm that the consequences of failing to appear in immigration court have been explained to you;
  • admit or deny the facts alleged in the NTA;
  • admit or deny the charges in the NTA;
  • designate or refuse to designate, a country of removal. Typically, if you applying for asylum, it is recommended to refuse to designate the country of your claimed persecution for removal.
  • if intend to ask for relief from removal (e.g. asylum, cancellation of removal, etc.) then state the form of relief you are seeking.
  • confirm that you will file any additional documents or evidence at least 15 days before the individual hearing. Note that some judges require 30 days or earlier.
  • estimate the number of hours required for the individual calendar hearing;
  • request an interpreter, if needed,
  • confirm that you have been provided by DHS with fingerprinting instructions and that you will timely comply with instructions;
  • confirm that you understand your rights and waive a further explanation of those rights by the immigration judge;
  • if applying for asylum, confirm that you understand the consequences of knowingly filing or making a frivolous asylum application;
  • confirm that you understand the consequences of failing to appear in immigration court or for a scheduled departure;
  • confirm that you understand the consequences of failing to comply with the DHS biometrics instructions; and
  • confirm that you knowingly and voluntarily waive the oral notice regarding limitations on discretionary relief following an in-absentia removal order, or authorize you to waive such notice.

After Your Master Calendar Hearing

After you attended the master calendar hearing, the immigration judge will schedule your “individual calendar” hearing. At the individual hearing, both parties (you and/or your attorneys and the attorneys from the DHS) present the merits of the case to the immigration judge. The merits of the case refer to the facts of your case and the law to support your arguments. It is important to remember that the outcome of your removal proceedings depends on whether you are eligible for relief from removal.

It is important to hire a qualified and experienced immigration lawyer as early as possible to avoid potential problems and to plan the best immigration strategy for you and your family. Attorney Ismail Shahtakhtinski provided excellent support to many immigrants and their families in deportation process. To learn more about our services and for consultation, please contact us at (703) 527-1779 or via e-mail: [email protected].