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The immigration process is extremely complicated. Depending on your specific situation, it could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years to resolve your case. Any mistakes in the process could result in forfeiture of thousands of dollars in fees, denial of a visa or green card and having to start all over again. Having a skilled advocate to guide you through the process and represent you before each and every immigration agency can make the difference between success or deportation.
At Skinner Law Firm we assist people in navigating the immigration process. Much is at stake when you are applying or wishing to obtain a visa or green card, fighting removal, or seeking assistance for a loved one. Put your fate into the hands of someone familiar with this complex process. Call a West Chester and Media immigration lawyer at (610) 436-1410 to schedule a consultation.
We serve people in the Philadelphia and Southeast Pennsylvania areas, including Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Montgomery, and York Counties. We also represent clients throughout the tristate area before the Immigration Courts in Philadelphia, York and beyond.
In an ideal situation, a person seeking to travel to the United States begins by obtaining a visa. A visa can be either an immigrant visa for those intending to stay permanently or a nonimmigrant visa for those coming to the United States for a specific purpose and for a specific period of time. Obtaining a visa usually, involves going to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the visa seeker’s home country. They must bring certain documents and go through an interview.
Once a visa is obtained, the person will then enter the country through Customs and Border Patrol (“CPB”). Even with a visa, a person can be refused entry at the border, or even detained. For example, if CPB finds evidence of a tourists’ intent to stay beyond his or her visit, the person may be denied entry.
A criminal conviction can also lead to you being denied entry into the United States. However, an attorney may be able to assist you in obtaining a waiver, which will waive the condition preventing you from being able to enter.
If an individual abroad is eligible to obtain permanent resident status, he or she may choose to go through a process called consular processing. Similar to obtaining a nonimmigrant visa, the individual will be required to attend an interview with the Consular Office. If approved, he or she will be allowed to travel to the United States and obtain a green card on arrival.
In many cases, however, people come to the United States without first obtaining a visa. People who are undocumented or fall out of legal status may have options to remedy their situation, but these options can be difficult and complicated. It is important that these people immediately seek the advice of an attorney to determine what they may be able to do. There may be applicable deadlines to these options, so it is very important to act as soon as possible.
Immigration falls under a category of law called administrative law. Administrative law is very different than normal court proceedings. Most initial immigration matters involve paperwork and evidence submitted to a specific agency, typically the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). A good majority of these matters require an interview with USCIS. Often, there is no further requirement to go before Immigration Court.
It is still important to have an attorney assist you on these matters. It is frequently difficult to understand exactly what information these agencies are seeking. In addition, it is imperative to be fully prepared for any interview that will take place before a USCIS officer. A mistake could significant delay an already long process. In some cases, a mistake could lead to denial of an immigration benefit – and then you will need to start all over.
Some matters, such as removals, are heard before Immigration Court. Immigration Courts are administered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (“EOIR”). There are two Immigration Courts in Pennsylvania: one in Philadelphia and the other in York. York is also the site of the York County Prison, an immigration detention facility.
The overwhelming majority of matters heard in Immigration Courts are removal cases. Removal, often called deportation, is when the Court determines whether a noncitizen should be allowed to remain in the United States. A person who is removed has an Order of Removal against him or her. As a result, he or she cannot return to the United States for a certain period of time. It is a federal offense for a person with a Removal Order to return without permission.
There are three actors involved in removal proceedings; the immigration judge, government counsel (called the OCC), and the respondent. The respondent, or the noncitizen facing removal, is usually represented by an attorney. Unlike criminal cases, an alien is not constitutionally entitled to an attorney if he or she cannot afford one. The respondent is responsible for retaining his or her own legal counsel.
Much like a prosecutor or district attorney in a criminal proceeding, the OCC represents the interests of the government. The immigration judge is the impartial party who decides whether to grant or deny the relief sought. The immigration judge’s decision is final and can only be reversed by the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) or a federal court.
Generally, there are two types of hearings in removal proceedings.
Master Calendar Hearing: Ordinarily, a master calendar hearing is the first appearance the respondent makes before an immigration judge. At this time the respondent, through counsel, discusses preliminary matters with government counsel before the immigration judge. The most significant part of this hearing is the presentation of the Notice to Appear (“NTA”).
If the respondent’s attorney decides the NTA is correct and in proper form, the respondent then admits the allegations, concedes the charge of inadmissibility or deportability, and designates the country to which he or she wishes to be removed, if ordered removed. The respondent’s attorney is then given the opportunity to identify the specific immigration relief sought and submit relevant applications.
Bond Hearing: Although technically a separate type of hearing, the bond hearing generally occurs during the master calendar hearing. During a bond hearing, a respondent requests that he or she be released on from ICE detention and be allowed to wait for subsequent hearings on his or her own recognizance. During this hearing, the respondent must prove various factors showing release is warranted, including lack of danger to the community, ties to the community, and likelihood of rehabilitation. To ensure appearance at subsequent hearings, the respondent must pay a “bond” or certain amount of money in exchange for release. Not all respondents are eligible for a bond. The INA explicitly outlines which criminal convictions render a respondent ineligible for a bond. However, the immigration judge has the discretion to deny a bond request absent these specific criminal convictions.
Merits Hearing: A merits hearing (interchangeably referred to as an individual hearing) is when the respondent, through an attorney, presents a defense against removal. The respondent is given the opportunity to present witnesses; both lay witnesses and expert witnesses, and other evidence necessary to prove the requirements of the immigration relief sought. As earlier stated, immigration courts do not adhere to the Federal Rules of Evidence; therefore, there is a broad array of evidence which may be admitted to the court. The government’s attorney will have an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and object to any defenses. At the end, the immigration judge considers all of the evidence presented and makes a ruling. The non-prevailing party is then given the opportunity to reserve the right to appeal. If the Judge denies your defense against removal, your case may be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and even beyond to the Federal Courts.
If you are approaching any sort of immigration matter, it is best to be fully prepared. Don’t go through it alone.
At Skinner Law Firm, our immigration attorneys in West Chester, PA advise and represent people in obtaining visas, adjusting statuses, fighting removal and other matters in the immigration system. Contact us today at (610) 436-1410 to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific immigration matter.
With offices in West Chester in Chester County, PA, we can help you through the immigration process during each stage of the case.
This article was last updated on Monday, December 28, 2015.