In the complex landscape of immigration law, in absentia removal orders represent a significant challenge for individuals in removal proceedings. An in absentia order is issued when a person fails to appear for their scheduled immigration court hearing. Individuals who have been ordered removed in absentia can file a motion to reopen their case with the immigration court in two scenarios: (1) they did not receive notice of the hearing; or (2) they could not appear at the hearing due to exceptional circumstances.
An individual who did not receive proper notice of the hearing and was ordered in absentia as a result can ask the immigration court to reopen their case and rescind the removal order. Some reasons why an individual might not have received notice of the hearing include:
However, it is crucial to point out that an individual who never received notice of the hearing because they moved and never updated their address with the immigration court cannot successfully claim that they had no notice. All individuals in removal proceedings are required to update their addresses with the immigration court within 5 days of moving to avoid, in part, this very situation.
Individuals who had notice of the hearing but nonetheless failed to attend the court hearing can also try to reopen removal proceedings arguing that exceptional circumstances prevented their attendance at the hearing. Exceptional circumstances might include serious illness of the noncitizen, or serious illness or death of the noncitizen’s family members. Courts have found that exceptional circumstances exist in various situations. Evidence to support the claim must be submitted, and it can also be helpful to include applications for relief that had not yet been submitted in order to show that the noncitizen had a strong case and little incentive to miss a hearing.
Perhaps the most important lesson to take away from this short discussion of in absentia removal orders is that it is essential that noncitizens keep their address up to date with the immigration court. The immigration court provides change of address forms that can be submitted by mail or in person to the relevant court.
All individuals in removal proceedings should make a habit of checking their mail regularly, calling the automated court hotline, and checking the status of the case online. Ignoring or overlooking official correspondence can lead to serious consequences.
In absentia removal orders present formidable challenges, but there may be options to reopen the case. If an individual realizes that they have missed a court hearing, it is critical to take steps to address it as soon as possible.
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