ICE Defense Part 2: The Merits Hearing

When you receive a Notice to Appear, you have been informed that government agents intend to proceed with deportation against you. After you receive that, the first official hearing you will attend is the Master Calendar Hearing, which is similar to an arraignment in a criminal trial. During the Master Calendar Hearing, you will communicate to the judge that you intend to mount a defense in your case. You will have an opportunity to present your side in the Merits Hearing. 

Preparing for the Merits Hearing

This hearing is different from the Master Calendar Hearing in a few ways. For one, you are the only case on the immigration judge’s docket for a few hours. Due to the time obligations involved in the Merits Hearing, it is advised that you not bring children with you. It is also important to wear professional-looking clothes to the hearing. 

The most important thing, however, is to retain an experienced immigration attorney for your hearing. You will have to pay for your legal representation, as the court will not appoint one for you. Before the Merits Hearing, you should spend plenty of your time with your attorney determining the defense you will bring up and gather documents supporting your case.

What Happens in a Merits Hearing?

The Merits Hearing has similar procedures and rules to a criminal trial. The government acts as a quasi-prosecutor, presenting their case for why you should be deported. Witnesses may be called and cross examined. Every situation is different, but many foreign nationals are encouraged to testify themselves at the Merits Hearing. Also similar to a criminal trial are closing statements that are given by each side.

After a Merits Hearing

It is possible your Merits Hearing will last more than one day. If this is the case, the judge will announce the date in which the hearing will be continued. Once your hearing has concluded, the judge will either give his or her ruling the same day or issue it in a timely manner. Don’t lose heart if you don’t receive the finding you were hoping for, as you may appeal it to the Board of Immigration Appeals within 30 days. The side that loses in appeals may have a chance to bump the case up to federal court. 


The Merits Hearing is the main stage in which you will be able to present your case, in front of an immigration judge, explaining why you should be able to stay in the country. Relief for you could be in the form of a green card or asylum. If you’re facing deportation and want to know your best options, please call us at 1-800-514-4290 to get started with a consultation.

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We help people from around the world to live and work freely in the U.S., to achieve their dreams, unite families, or escape persecution. No matter what immigration service you need, RelisLaw will provide caring and dependable counsel to you and aggressive advocacy to vigorously fight for you using every available legal avenue. As a global firm, we work with people in countries around the world. We meet clients across the U.S., as well as in New York, Toronto, and Montréal. We also meet with clients globally, located in any country, via Skype and other platforms.

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