Deportation, also known as removal proceedings, begins with the issuance of a “Notice to Appear” (NTA), which is a charging document similar to an indictment in criminal courts. The NTA contains the charges (reasons) under which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims that a non U.S. citizen (immigrant respondent) is deportable from the U.S. Once the NTA is filed with the immigration court and the immigrant respondent recieves a copy of the NTA, the immigrant respondent is officially facing deportation.
Although deportation proceedings are administrative in nature, the process is adversarial like in criminal court. This means that there will be two parties involved in the process, arguing against each other. The immigrant respondent will argue to the immigration judge that she should remain in the U.S. The adversarial party is the U.S. government, represented by an attorney called “Chief Counsel for ICE. The latter is similar to a prosecutor at criminal courts, and will argue to the immigration judge that the immigrant respondent must be deported from the U.S.
Like in criminal courts, the immigrant respondent facing deportation has a right to be represented by an attorney, however, unlike criminal courts, the government is not oblied to provide an attorney at no cost to the immigrant respondent. The immigrant respondent is responsable of hiring a private attorney to represent her during the deportation proceedings.
Another crucial difference between criminal court and deportation proceedings is that the immigrant respondent must respond to the charges brought against her. That is why the immigrant at immigration court is called the “respondent”. There is no “right to remain silence” in deportation proceedings. The immigrant respondent at deportation proceedings must prove her case by testifying and providing evidence to the immigration court. In criminal court it is the government who must prove that the person is guilty of a crime, therefore the person accused of a crime does not need to testify nor to present any evidence to the court if she so chooses. If the prosecutor fails to prove that the person is guilty, the accused walks out of the court free of any charges. In deportation proceedings the immigrant respondent will be deported if she fails to prove her case to the immigration judge.
Although the immigrant respondent has a right to represent herself during deportation proceedings, it is higly recommended that she hires an immigration attorney to defend her. Deportation proceedings and immigration laws are extremely complex. The immigrant respondent will be in great dissadvantage arguing her case against the trained and experienced attorney who will represent the government. Hiring an immigration attorney could be the difference between being deported and remaining in the United States.