A deportation hearing is a civil law proceeding. You may receive notice of a hearing if the Department of Homeland Security or another government agency believes you violated laws related to immigration.

After you’re charged and served a notice of the hearing, you have a right to present a case in defense of deportation. You do so at the deportation hearing, and once all the evidence is presented, the court decides whether you should be deported or not.

Obviously, there’s a lot riding on a deportation hearing. Preparing before the hearing with the support of an immigration attorney can help you make the best case possible for staying in the country. Start with these seven steps for preparing for a deportation hearing.

1. Don’t Ignore a Notice to Appear or Notice of Hearing

Before a deportation hearing, you must receive written notice. Typically, you should receive notice of the charges against you that make the deportation hearing necessary. You should also receive a Notice to Appear (NTA) and a Notice of Hearing.

While all of these documents can be scary, you should not ignore them. You have limited time to prepare for your deportation hearing, and it’s important to start working on your defense right away.

It’s also critical to make every effort to be at your deportation hearing. If you don’t show up and there is proof you were served with the notices, you automatically lose the case. That means the judge will issue an order requiring you to be removed from the country.

2. Talk to an Immigration Attorney as Soon as Possible

As soon as you’re charged with breaking immigration laws or receive a notice about a deportation hearing, consider meeting with an immigration lawyer. An experienced immigration legal team can help you understand what you need to do to defend yourself against deportation.

3. Find Out About Your Rights

You do have rights when it comes to defending yourself against deportation. For example, you can’t be deported without a hearing, and you have a right to have an attorney to represent you at the hearing. This isn’t like a criminal law case, though, where a lawyer is provided for someone if they don’t have one. You have to hire your own attorney, and it’s best to do that as far before the hearing as possible.

Your attorney will work to defend you and also protect any other rights you have. For example, you have a right to understand what’s going on at your hearing and be understood by the judge and others in the room. That means the court may need to provide someone to translate for you.

4. Know Your Deportation Defense Options

One of the best defense options is to prove that the charges against you aren’t true. If you didn’t break any immigration laws and can prove it, you can’t be deported based on those charges.

You can also request relief, which means you might be able to avoid deportation even if you can’t prove the charges against you are untrue. Reasons for relief can include the need for asylum, a change in status based on family, or protection under laws such as the Violence Against Women Act.

Your immigration attorney can let you know what deportation defense options you might have and how they might work in your case.

5. Learn About What Might Happen at the Hearing

It can be scary to go into a removal hearing not knowing what to expect. Ask your attorney to walk you through what might happen and what you need to do in the hearing. It’s a good idea to learn what rules you’re expected to follow, such as when you should speak and when you should let your attorney speak for you.

You may be able to observe immigration court hearings to get an idea of what to expect. Ask your lawyer if there is any reason you should not do this before looking into this option.

6. Go Over How You Might Respond to Questions During the Hearing

During your hearing, you will likely be asked to answer questions from your lawyer and the lawyer or agent representing the government. You will do this after being sworn in, which means it’s illegal to lie when answering questions. However, you can be strategic in what you say and how you say it.

Be prepared for this part of the hearing by working with your lawyer ahead of time. He or she can provide you with potential questions you might be asked. You can also practice answering these questions and get some feedback on how to do so from your lawyer.

7. Discuss Potential Witnesses With Your Lawyer

During your hearing, you may have the opportunity to have witnesses speak on your behalf. Talk to your lawyer ahead of time about who might be a good witness so you can ensure they are prepared and present at the time of the hearing.

Don’t Face Deportation Hearings Alone

A lot can go into deportation defense, and you don’t have to deal with this issue alone. Reach out to Landerholm Immigration, A.P.C. if you’ve received a notice of removal hearing to find out how we can help.