When you think of going to court, you may imagine appearing before a judge or jury to defend yourself against criminal charges. You may also know of people who have gone to court for family law matters, financial issues or to claim damages after an injury.
If you are in the immigration system, however, you may end up in a very different kind of court. Immigration court involves those who are seeking asylum or working toward their citizenship, but many of those who come before an immigration judge are at risk of deportation because of an expired visa, lack of documentation or criminal charges.
A difficult path to take alone
If you are among those facing an immigration proceeding, you should know that the process is similar to a criminal trial in district or federal court. However, the difference is that you will not have the constitutional protections that you would in a criminal court. For one thing, you will have no option to request a court-appointed attorney, but you may hire one to represent you. Without legal guidance, the odds may be against you considering these facts:
- You may be detained indefinitely, perhaps for years, until your trial date arrives if you are facing criminal charges, even for a misdemeanor offense.
- Guards may transport you to the courtroom in shackles.
- The judge who hears your case works for one of the U.S. President's cabinet appointees and may have similar political leanings.
- Immigration judges typically hear twice as many cases as judges in federal district courts.
- Nearly 70 percent of cases in immigration court end with a deportation order.
- Because of the tremendous number of appeals, most appeals boards simply affirm the deportation ruling without further explanation.
If the board denies your appeal, you can go to the federal level, but at that point, you no longer have protection from deportation. Authorities may have already removed you by the time the U.S. Court of Appeals hears your case. Even if you are still in the U.S., the chances are very small that a federal judge will overturn the decision. Besides, it is a complicated and expensive path to take.
By the time you figure out how the system is working, you may have missed your one opportunity for a favorable outcome. For the sake of your future, you certainly want every possible advantage when you stand before an immigration judge. Seeking the representation of an attorney with experience in immigration law is a wise move.