In this article...

Watch Our Video
Kevin O'Flaherty

This article will discuss when an immigration judge's decision is final and how you can respond. We will answer the following questions:

  • When does the immigration judge decide on my case?
  • Can the immigration judge give a decision if I'm not present?
  • Can I appeal the immigration judge's decision?
  • What if I believe the immigration judge made a mistake?
  • When is my case fully closed?

Deportation proceedings can be confusing, especially for non-English speaking individuals. There's no guarantee you'll get to stay in the United States, but how do you know when the decision is final? If the Immigration Judge (IJ) decides you're to be deported, have you reached the end of the line? What if you have evidence that the judge made a mistake? You may be surprised to find that you still have options even after the judge has ruled against you.

When Does The Immigration Judge Make A Decision On My Case?

While each immigration case is unique, all U.S. immigration courts follow the same process. Deportation proceedings, also known as removal proceedings, have two stages: the first hearing, called the "master calendar hearing," and the follow-up, called the "merit hearing" or "individual hearing." The master calendar hearing functions as a preliminary hearing during which the judge discusses how your case will proceed. The merit hearing is where the judge will hear your defense and discuss any evidence. 

After the merits hearing, the immigration judge will decide on the case. Some cases may take more than one day to complete, so don't assume you'll have an answer on the same day your merit hearing starts. The judge will issue the decision in writing or deliver it orally to those present in the court. Either way, you should receive a written summary of the decision. If you do not receive a written summary of the decision, it is crucial that you reach out to the court as soon as possible. Without the summary document, you will be unable to file an appeal properly.

Can The Immigration Judge Give A Decision If I'm Not Present?

Yes. If you fail to show up for your merit hearing, the judge can still decide your case in absentia. As long as the court can show that you were given written notice of the hearing, the judge can give a decision. If the judge rules that you be removed, the decision becomes official, just as if you were in the courtroom. A summary of the ruling will be mailed to your address on file. At this point, if you are "caught" by immigration, you can be given to the authorities and deported from the United States, especially if the appeal deadline has passed. In limited circumstances, you can file a motion to reopen your case. 


Can I Appeal the Immigration Judge's Decision?

Yes, after the immigration judge's ruling, you can file an appeal in nearly all cases. The judge's decision only becomes final if you decide to (1) waive your appeal, or (2) the deadline to appeal passes.

The judge will often ask, after making their decision, "Do you want to waive appeal?" or "Do you accept this decision as final?" You are not legally bound to answer this time, but if you and your attorney agree that you may want another court to review your case, you must state that you "reserve appeal." You have 30 days to file your appeal, or the judge's decision is final.

There are a handful of reasons why someone would waive their right to appeal, including:

  • Additional court costs and attorney fees;
  • The facts of the case make it unlikely the judge's decision will be overturned;
  • You have no issues with returning to your home country;
  • You are in detention, and appealing would extend that detention;
  • You lost certain benefits because of a change in status (such as being divorced)

What If I Believe The Immigration Judge Made A Mistake?

If the judge rules in favor of your removal, filing an appeal isn't always the best or only option. If new evidence surfaces or the facts of the case change, you can file a "Motion to Reopen," which asks the judge to reopen your case, giving you a second chance to make your argument.

Similarly, if you feel the judge made the wrong decision, or there was a recent change in the law the judge failed to consider, you can file a "Motion to Reconsider." Both of these motions fulfill the same function, but each has a specific set of requirements. Even if your motion fails, you may still be able to appeal the original decision. But, if you have already filed your appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals, the original judge can no longer grant your motion.

When Is My Case Fully Closed?

The immigration judge's decision is final if you waive your appeal, or you filed a motion to reopen or reconsider the case, and the appeal deadline passed. However, this may not fully close your case. Some individuals may be eligible for a waiver or another form of relief, depending on their case's specifics. The person going through the deportation proceedings can also claim that they didn't understand what the judge meant by "final." Still, this argument rarely works unless they are non-native English speakers, and there was no attorney present.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


Get my FREE E-Book

Similar Articles

Learn about Law