By Mitchell J. Cohen, Esquire
333 South Miami Avenue, Miami, FL 33130 is the home of the Miami Immigration Court, which handles deportation and deportation-type proceedings for South Florida area (the 8th Floor houses social security). There are also detention facilities which have immigration courts embedded within them, such as the Krome Processing Center in Miami, and the Broward Transitional Center (BTC) in Pompano Beach. The Miami Immigration Court also handles IHP (“Institutional Hearing Program”) removal proceedings, generally on the 7th floor of the building. IHP involves persons who are still serving their criminal sentences in jail. Their removal proceedings are handled through a closed-circuit television system.
The building opens at 7:30 AM, and there is a parking lot adjoining the building, which charges $15 cash. Be dressed appropriately. Security at the building’s entrance asks for identification, and scan one’s belongings through an x-ray machine. Then you step through a metal detector. Leave any sharp objects in your car. Do not bring any matches or lighters. If you are scheduled for a hearing, it is important to give yourself plenty of time to find the court building, park, and to get through security. It is a common occurrence for people to get ordered deported in their absence (“in absentia”) when they fail to show up on time for their Immigration Court hearing.
The lobby has some seating and a bank of elevators. There is also a list of judges and their courtrooms posted nearby. If your notice of hearing lists Room 700, that is the clerk’s office. Go to the 7th Floor, and ask the clerk at the window which courtroom to go to. An alternative, is to call (800) 898-7180 the automated information system, press #1, then enter your alien number (also known as an “A” number – it is on your notice to appear and notice of hearing and is an 8 or 9 digit number beginning). Press #1 again, and hopefully you will be told the time, date, and place of your immigration court hearing (including the Immigration Judge’s name). Still yet another method of obtaining information about your hearing is to call the clerk’s office at (305) 789-4221, and give them your alien number.
Here is a guide to the floors of 333 South Miami Avenue:
Floor 1: Lobby
Floors 2 and 3: Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of the Chief Counsel (a/k/a “Trial Attorney Unit” or more informally “Immigration Prosecutor’s Office)
Floors 4-7: Immigration Judges’ Courtrooms
Floor 7: Clerk’s Office (“Room 700”)
Floor 8: Social Security Administration
On each of the floors where there are courtrooms, there are waiting rooms by the elevators. Inside the waiting rooms on the wall are listed each judge’s docket for the day (list of individuals and their hearing times). Make sure you are in the judge’s courtroom by the time your hearing is scheduled to begin. Silence or turn off your cell phone before entering the courtroom. Do not chew gum in court. Keep noise at a minimum. When the judge walks into or out of the courtroom, the proper protocol is to stand up.
If you are unrepresented, you should show the judge’s judicial assistant your hearing notice, so you are entered on a list of those present waiting to be called. Once your name is called, you will sit down at the “respondent’s table.” A respondent is the immigration court equivalent of a “defendant”. At a minimum, you will be asked to confirm your name, address, and telephone number.
Given the fact that U.S. immigration law is extremely complicated and harsh, it is generally a terrible idea to attempt to represent yourself in immigration court, even “a little.” The best time to hire an immigration attorney is well before your first hearing. Statements or admissions that you make about seemingly inconsequential things may inflict serious damage to your defense. Even acknowledging that you were born outside of the U.S., or that you were “properly served” with the notice to appear, or admitting that you committed a crime, may advance the government’s case against you. An unrepresented person may ask the immigration judge for a “continuance” (postponement) to find an attorney. If you are unrepresented at the initial master calendar hearing, the judge should ask you if you want time to find an attorney or if you wish to represent yourself. A polite affirmative request from a respondent seeking time to find an attorney may be “Your Honor, may I please have some time to find an attorney?” The judge may, at his or her own discretion, then reschedule your hearing to a later date, at which point you will be expected to appear with your attorney. The decision to grant or deny the request for time to find an attorney is up to the immigration judge. Therefore, it is best to have your immigration attorney from the start. The judge is much less likely to grant a second request for a continuance to find an attorney. If the continuance is granted, you will be warned about the consequences of failing to appear at your next hearing, and handed a hearing notice. You will also be handed a change of address form (Form EOIR-33C). Any address change must be filed with the clerk’s office (7th Floor), and a copy served on the Office of the Chief Counsel (2nd Floor).
Depending on the nature and individual facts of your case, you may have several immigration court hearings over the course of several months or even in some cases years. Typically the early phase of the hearing involves the immigration prosecutor trying to establish that you are subject to deportation from the United States. In some cases it may be possible for your immigration lawyer get the proceedings terminated based on defects in the notice to appear (the charging document) or based on effectively contesting the substance of the charge(s). Should the government prevail on that issue, then the next issue is what if any immigration relief you qualify for. If the Immigration Judge finds that you are eligible to apply for relief, he or she will require the filing of the application(s) and supporting documentation, and conduct one or more hearings on the application(s), where testimony of witnesses will generally be presented. At the conclusion, the Immigration Judge will rule on the merits of case.
In 1922 the Supreme Court noted that deportation “may result in loss of both property and life, or of all that makes life worth living.” For a person in Immigration Court proceedings the stakes are extremely high, as a deportation order may effectively mean permanent exile from United States. That is why it is very important to hire a good, experienced immigration attorney.
Mitchell J. Cohen, Esquire has law offices in Fort Myers and Hallandale Beach, and has extensive experience representing clients in Immigration Court.
Hallandale Beach Immigration Law Office: 501 Golden Isles Drive, Ste. 205, Hallandale Beach, FL 33009.
Tel. (954) 457-1941
Fort Myers Immigration Law Office: 3620 Colonial Avenue, Ste. 160, Fort Myers, FL 33966.
Tel. (239) 931-6558
This article is general in nature and is not intended as legal advice nor should it be construed to create an attorney-client relationship.