Ah...the fun of the court room! Gotta love it!
Think "cattle call" -- do you do state or federal cases? The initial hearing equates roughly to a preliminary hearing in state/federal. The burden of moving forward is with the state, and if the respondent does not admit to the charges of removability, it is the burden of the state to prove them up. Once the state has convinced the judge that the charges are legit, the judge asks what relief the respondent seeks. Note that care must be used is admitting to the state's allegations as to removability...usually it's pretty "cold turkey" gotchas, but occasionally, they'll try to pull a quickie. Keep an eye on the regs, and the charges -- especially when a charge (state or federal criminal charge) can be viewed in different ways depending on the eye of the beholder. You can all sorts of fun stomping your feet and demanding a hearing as to the applicability or legitimacy of a particular allegation. On the same note -- don't be a jerk. If the allegation is valid, don't get a reputation of wasting court time on goofy meaningless foot dragging. This is especially true if your fella (or lass, as the case may be) is detained.
As to relief, that's where you pull out your trusty tool box and ponder the possible options. Generally, you want to do this prior to the hearing -- however, if you had not chance to see the NTA afore the hearing, take a moment to consider. Besides, you look good staring out the window rubbing your chin as you ponder how to save your client. You go, attorney! Typical relief options are Cancellation of Removal (COR 42A or 42B), some assortment of asylums (A-W-C), family adjustment (when appropriate), stalling with a plea for Prosecutorial Discretion (truly a waste), continuance for post-conviction relief (right....usually a stall tactic for some out of court magic date when bubba suddenly becomes eligible for relief), voluntary departure (one of the least understood and quite helpful tools for folks that can later adjust and don't already have EWI's etc.), and the old favorite -- a request for peonage (rarely granted, but often illicits a grin for those that know you have just asked to violate a host of immigration laws and the US constitution...but hey, if you have nothing else...)
When you really have hit the "duh...why am I here?" problem, and this is the first MCH...punt! Ask for a continuance to consider your options. Usually, you get one pass. Use it wisely.
Also, prior to requesting relief, but after a reading of the allegations (and any challenges thereunto), you'll have a chance to plead for bond, if your alleged evil alien monster is not already detained. Now, save yourself some grief, and the expectation crushing blow to your client's dying mother who just happened to attend your first MCH -- if your client has an aggravated felony (affectionately known as AgFel's). Don't know what constitutes an AgFel? Ping the law firm, and I'll send you a nifty cheat sheet (although as I have posted this prior -- I warn you that some of my more learned colleagues challenge some of the agfel definitions included on my sheet of cheating...but I'll leave that for your free time to hunt my alleged errors :). Regardless, with an AgFel, guess what? Your guest alien will not be getting out of the pokie. Don't even ask. Your client has "detained" stamped on his forehead. If you want to see if you can avoid that...TALK TO ICE BEFORE BEFORE BEFORE BEFORE (ahem...did I mention, um, "before"?) the judge has your case. The judge is compelled to keep your client detained if she has an AgFel. However, ICE can do whatever they want before EOIR takes the case. This is really important for CBP (custom and border patrol) ops (that would be LPR's that are snagged at the border for having a nefarious AgFel past that, for some reason, was allowed to be ignored for years and only now makes the evil heathens). If someone contacts you about a CBP "deferred inspection" grab them vigorously, and make SURE he or she takes you to the interview. You can beg and plead with the CBP officer to ask ICE to let your client walk -- even with AgFels. Once your client is non-detained -- judge can't revoke that, so it is possible to have a doomed, er..client out even with an AgFel. So...see if you can cajole ICE to play nice. Good luck with that, by the way :)
Let's see.. oh, and what about other MCH's? Well...they are just status hearings (a federal term for a continued case on the criminal docket). Usually you'll have one more after you plead relief so that you might have a glorious opportunity to, before all the assembled sad faced immigrants who, in court do find themselves, present a completed application of whatever relief thou hast otherwise requested in this, you first MCH.
The real fun is trying to prepare your client for their actual hearing on the merits (called an "individual calendar hearing" in immigration court parlance -- and by the way, if you are a client reading this LEARN AND DO NOT DO THESE THINGS). It is quite common to get hearing dates that are quite literally years out from the MCH (for non-detained). Your honest hard working client(s) will wander away...move to different states...go back to their home country, get DUI's (unbelievably...this is the number one charge for most of the folks that come to our office...an endemic problem in the Hispanic community of Northern VA...is there an ADA claim there somewhere? I'm game if anyone wants to help)...or, their story will change, the facts will be all wrong, and when trial comes, they'll not have provided anything you need. Remember! You are now a stunning paragon of justice and imminent speaker on all matters immigration -- so no worries (laughing)...you will persevere. On at least one in ten. (laughing again).
Court is a lot of fun, and the challenges of immigration court are really the same for all court cases -- facts and foundation. Get'um right and the relief you seek is indeed a pearl of great worth within your grasp.
Sean R. Hanover, Esq.
The Hanover Law Firm is located in Washington, DC and Fairfax, VA. We practice
in both state and federal courts in VA, MD, and DC.