The Immigration-issued NTA is a very nuanced document. Even the manner it is served (or lack thereof) on the person the government seeks to remove from the country often makes a difference regarding whether certain persons get removed or not. For example, if the Notice to Appear is sent to a wrong address, or a wrong person, or a person whose name is substantially mis-spelt on the document, removal proceedings may not be said to have properly commenced against a person. Such scenarios have often provided relief from Removal (even if just temporarily) to countless individuals.

The nuanced, specific and highly-technical nature of the NTA can be seen in its very structure. The first items usually encountered in the document are often meant to establish the identity of the person targeted for removal. These include the Respondent's Alien Identification Number (also referred to as the “File Number”; a Respondent-specific DHS-ICE “event number”; the “Subject Identification Number”and the Respondent's date of birth. Other important identifiers include the Respondent's full and correct name, address (which partly explains why anyone with alien status in the United States must furnish Immigration authorities with his or her current address) and telephone number.

Aliens who receive a Notice to Appear are grouped into neatly-defined categories, which can be seen on the NTA itself.

This article focuses on two main categories of such aliens: the first are overstays, especially students and similar types whose non-compliance with the terms of their visas (i.e. continued enrollment in the academic programs and schools for which reason they came to the US in the first place) are flagged in the vast databases of the Immigration Enforcement services. This group also includes those aliens otherwise legally resident in the US but who have committed crimes that make them removable (yes, “permanent residents” are considered aliens; so much for “permanent”!)

The second group comprises of those who entered the US without inspection (i.e. EWI, or those who entered without visas of any kind), which is mainly people who sneaked through border points of entry, managed to “lay low” for a certain period of time and then came to the attention of law enforcement through committing a crime or other malfeasance.

The NTA usually states the reasons the government, through DHS-ICE, seeks to remove the person from the country. Since each such individual's circumstances will be different from another's, the reasons so stated in the NTA---and which are officially known as “allegations”---will vary from person to person. But certain facts about the individual considered removable by the government are also standard in the “Allegations” section of the NTA and are asserted therein by the government.

The allegations (or “charges of removability”, as the government prefers to reference them) usually contain certain assertions that apply to all who receive a Notice to Appear. These include charges that the individual targeted for Removal is not a Citizen of the United States; that the individual is a citizen of a foreign country, which is usually also named in the Notice; that the person was admitted into the United States on a particular date in the past and in a particular non-immigrant status (for those who were “inspected” upon arrival in the United States); and the specific action or statutory violation that makes the person removable from the United States. This latter will, of course, vary from one individual to the other: certain persons are removable because they committed specific crimes after they became US permanent residents, and before they could become US Citizens. For some people who were not US permanent residents before they “got dragged” into Removal proceedings, so to speak, they could be charged in the Notice to Appear with removability based on certain criminal offenses.

This is usually the case if such offenses are so-called “Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude” (CIMT); they could also be “aggravated felonies”, another Immigration law term-of-art. Those crimes are usually listed in or are covered by Sections 212 (a) and 237 (a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and are distinguished from crimes that do not make individuals removable. Usually, for crimes considered CIMTs and aggravated felonies in the Immigration context, punishment after conviction---or for which there is the possibility of being imposed---include more than a year in jail, even if such a sentence is suspended, stayed or imposed as a period of probation.

Another common infraction usually listed among the charge (s) of removability on a Notice to Appear include an alleged violation of INA 237(a) and its various sub-sections, particularly the charge that the individual married a US Citizen only with the intent to procure a permanent visa (green card) by fraud or material misrepresentation, in violation of INA 237 (a)(1)(B).

Any individual who finds himself / herself in this situation is strongly advised to enlist the services of an attorney versed in such representations or matters, even if it is only at the stage where the USCIS has issued a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), after the US-Citizen spouse filed the I 130 petition. If the USCIS ultimately rejects the I 130 petition, such an individual (the non-US Citizen spouse) will be placed in removal proceedings, with the issuance of a Notice to Appear. In addition, individuals who are Conditional Residents and who fail to “remove” those conditions for whatever relevant reason (s) could also be subject to Removal based on the same rationale.

For those who entered the US without inspection (sneaking across the border or EWI), later come to the attention of law enforcement or Immigration authorities who seek to deport them solely on such a basis (the EWI) and nothing else (i.e. no crime committed upon arriving in the US), the charge of removability usually references the so-called “new” INA 212 (a)(6)(A)(i), which recommends for Removal any alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled, or who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General of the US.

It is important that any person who receives a Notice to Appear meant to initiate such a person’s removal from the US pays critical attention to the charge (s) of removability. Language therein, or a lack thereof, can often mean relief or reprieve from removal for the person thus targeted. Often, in such situations, the charge is usually wrong or is inadequate to effect the person’s removal (i.e. there is an argument for reprieve under the “petty offenses exception” in INA 212 (a)(2)(A)(ii)(II) ). It is important to note that receiving the Notice to Appear (NTA) is not the proverbial “kiss of death” to your chances of remaining in the US or even gaining legal status in this country.

As I previously noted, your best chance of making receiving the NTA a non-issue is to immediately contact an experienced and knowledgeable Immigration attorney. Such a professional, for instance, will be more likely to spot glaring procedural flaws in the document to get you off the hook, so to speak. For instance, the NTA might have been sent to your actual address but somehow contains another person’s name, or your incomplete name.

A savvy attorney can get your case dismissed in court on those or other procedural grounds such as improper service, however temporary such a relief might be (before the government issues a new or corrected charging document). You (or your attorney acting on your behalf) can also deploy more substantive defenses in your bid to defeat the NTA and avoid removal. Defenses that can be raised, which itself will only arise after you must have conceded the charges of removability at your initial Master Calendar Hearing, depend on what you were charged with. If the charge was that you entered the US without inspection (EWI), the government has to prove you are removable on this ground. The same burden rests on government if the charge is that you are removable on any of the relevant criminal grounds, even though you are a permanent resident of the US and not just a person who “sneaked” into the country.

For example, government might have relied on documents tendered in your criminal case which correctly identified you as the person who committed or was convicted of a crime; but the supposed crime could also have been subject to the “petty offenses” exception, which makes you ineligible for Removal.

If you are indeed subject to Removal, meaning there are no substantive defenses, it still does not infer that your removal from the United States is inevitable.

For US legal permanent residents (LPR) charged with removability after being convicted of a crime or those charged with being in the US without inspection (EWI), there is the relief of Cancellation of Removal. This relief will be available for the former if the following conditions are applicable: they have been in LPR status for not less than five years before commission of the crime that is the basis of their removal proceedings; or they have resided in the United States for not less than seven years in any status; and they have not been convicted of an aggravated felony.

In the case of those charged with removability in Immigration Court because of their EWI status (non permanent residents), the relief of Cancellation of Removal is available if the person has resided continuously in the United States for at least ten years; is adjudged by the Court to have been a person of good moral character throughout that period of ten years; is not otherwise subject to criminal bars arising from a conviction of any crime outlined in relevant Immigration statutes, such as INA §212(a)(2); INA §237(a)(2), or §237(a)(3); and establishes that removal would result in "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to the alien's spouse, parent, or child who is a United States citizen or legal permanent resident.

Other forms of relief a person can request before an Immigration Judge after being charged with removability on a validly-served NTA include the following: asylum; withholding of removal; protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT); voluntary departure; and deferred action.

These options are better explained to you by an attorney versed in the practice of Immigration law. He or she will also be better placed to advise if any of those defenses and reliefs are applicable to your matter or if your circumstance merits such relief.