Cases in immigration court usually are scheduled for two different types of hearings. There are short hearings, usually called “master calendar” hearings, and longer hearings known as “individual hearings” or “merits hearings.”
The master calendar hearing can have several purposes. Usually at the first hearing, an immigration judge advises the person appearing (the “respondent”) of his or her rights and duties. Most people are given one or more opportunities to hire an attorney if they ask for more time, but this depends on the judge and court.
Failure to appear at any hearing can lead to an order of removal simply for not appearing. If that happens, the person probably needs to discuss filing a motion to reopen with the court if eligible. Master calendar hearings are very quick for those with attorneys, and might only take 15 minutes. The judge will typically ask the person to identify himself or herself, any other people involved in the case, will sometimes ask the person respond to the allegations which the government is presenting, and then schedule another hearing.
At times, master calendar hearings do become more involved. For one, those appearing without an attorney will generally have to wait until all those people who came with attorneys are done. This could be several hours if there are a lot of people scheduled. Additionally, the judge may want to address some of the issues before scheduling another hearing, such as when someone denies charges and allegations, disputes nationality, asks the judge to terminate the case, or simply doesn’t understand the proceedings and needs clarification. Judges have large numbers of people scheduled on any given day and prefer to address each case as quickly as possible, so it can be helpful to have an attorney simply for the sake of saving time. Of course, working with an attorney is almost essential in these cases because immigration law is extremely complex.