GETTING TO KNOW THE MEMPHIS IMMIGRATION COURT: 10 THINGS
The Memphis Immigration Court is not an independent, Article III, court of law. Rather, it is an administrative law court falling under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, a component of the Executive Office forImmigration Review under the Department of Justice. The court in Memphis has jurisdiction over all non-detained removal proceedings originating in Arkansas, Tennessee and Northern Mississippi.
As we're located in Arkansas, the vast majority of our clients facing removal end up in Memphis. Our cases involving detained immigrants will find themselves before one of the Louisiana courts and we sometimes have clients who find themselves before the Dallas or Kansas City immigration courts either because they are placed there by accident or they live in eastern Oklahoma or southwest Missouri. Regardless, Memphis is the general rule...
80 Monroe Avenue, Memphis, TN
Photo courtesy of Google
As such, it might be helpful to get to know the Memphis Immigration Court a little better. Here are ten important pieces of information anyone dealing with the court might want to know:
1. The EOIR Hotline
Before even going to your hearing, you can call an automated system to make sure you have the date and time correct. The immigration court system has a “hotline” you can call. The phone number is (800) 898-7180. Sometimes it has glitches, is busy, or shuts down for maintenance (usually on a weekend).
You can call this phone number to figure out the date, time, and location of a hearing, appellate information and how many days have elapsed on the asylum clock if you are applying for asylum. It can also confirm if your case is still pending or if the immigration judge has already entered an order on your case. Calling this hotline is a daily part of my job.
2. Where is the Memphis Immigration Court Located?
The court is located mere feet from the Mississippi river in downtown Memphis on the 5th floor of the Brinkley Plaza building. The address is:
80 Monroe Avenue, Suite 501
Memphis, TN 38103
If you enter the building through the doors facing Monroe Avenue, the elevators will be just to your left in the lobby after going up a tiny set of stairs. The elevators are weird. Rather than pushing an "up" or "down" button, you choose which floor you want to go to before getting on the elevator. Once you choose the floor, a screen will tell you which elevator, "A," "B," C," or "D," you need to take.
Go to the 5th floor. When the elevator doors open, you will be staring straight into the court's reception area. Straight ahead will be a security check in. You'll have to go through an administrative search, emptying your pockets and walking through a metal detector. You might even have to take off your belt and shoes.
On the left of the reception area is a door leading to the Office of Chief Counsel's office. This is where the ICE prosecutors, or Trial Attorneys, are found. Even if you are going there, you still need to go through the administrative search. The security guards are pretty chill unless you try and walk around the line. They don't like that. If you're confused about where to go, they'll be more than happy to point out which courtroom your hearing is going to take place in.
3. Who are the Judges?
As of today, Memphis has four full-time immigration judges. They are:
Judge Rebecca L. Holt – Was in private practice from 1979 when she graduated from Loyola Law School until 2010 when she was appointed to be an immigration judge at the Memphis Immigration Court.
Judge Richard J. Averwater – Possesses an incredibly diverse background in the legal field, having worked as an attorney for ICE and as a private attorney representing immigrants before the various immigration agencies. He was appointed to be an immigration judge in 2015.
Judge Matthew W. Kaufman – Originally from out west, Judge Kaufman spent most of his career as an attorney for Customs & Border Protection and ICE before being appointed to serve an as immigration judge in Memphis in 2015.
Judge Vernon Benet Miles – Appointed to the San Antonio Immigration Court in 2016, he was a JAG lawyer and a veteran of both the army and the marines. More recently, he worked in a variety of capacities as an attorney with the Department of Justice. He transferred to the Memphis Immigration Court in 2017.
4. What role does the court play?
The immigration court hears cases, including considering testimony, evaluating evidence and listening to arguments, to determine whether an immigrant is eligible to remain in the United States. If ineligible, a removal order or voluntary departure order is usually entered. In that sense, the immigration courts are very real courts indeed.
Anyone in these proceedings has the right to an attorney. Even so, that attorney is not provided by the government. The Memphis Immigration Court will not appoint an attorney for you and will not recommend an attorney for you. Anyone is free to represent themselves as well, but doing so is a horrible idea that, statistically speaking, almost always results in deportation.
5. Where do I park?
Do you know who doesn’t care if traffic is bad or it took you longer than you planned to get to the court? The immigration judge. Arriving on time and being prepared is expected by the immigration judges in Memphis and it does not bode well if you arrive late to your hearing. This can be very difficult if you are coming from western Arkansas or eastern Tennessee, so plan accordingly. Make sure to add an hour or more to your journey just in case construction or other unforeseen circumstances pop up. I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis, for example, is perpetually under construction.
In Memphis, there is no parking that has been specifically designated for the immigration court. There are several parking garages in the area around the court, meaning you will have to park in downtown Memphis unless a friend is dropping you off. Parking in downtown Memphis is far from ideal, so leave yourself some extra time to find a place. Arrive early. It is not possible to arrive too early.
6. How long will my hearing take?
Your guess is as good as mine. Seriously, no one knows for sure how long you have to be at the court. It depends on a number of factors. If appearing for a master calendar hearing, your hearing will probably be shorter. Those with attorneys jump to the front of the line. If you have an attorney and get there early you may be done in mere minutes. If you do not have an attorney, you will be relegated to the end of the line and could find yourself at the court for 2-4 hours, depending on how quickly the cases are moving that day. If you and your attorney do not live in Memphis and you're luck enough for the judge to allow you to appear by phone, it could also take 2-4 hours.
If your hearing is an individual calendar hearing, basically your trial, you will need to be prepared to be at the court for several hours and maybe even all day. The length of the hearing is going to depend on how much evidence you have, the witnesses, how long your testimony lasts, among other factors.
7. Can I just ignore my case between hearings?
No. If you move, you have to tell the court. You can do so by filing Form EOIR-33/IC. The form is available at the court and online. You are legally obligated to file this form within 5 business days of moving and the judges are generally not happy with you or your attorney if you forget to do so.
You might also want to regularly check the EOIR Hotline (discussed above). In Memphis it is less common than other courts, but hearings can still change sometimes. They can be cancelled, pushed back, or in some cases, moved up. Calling in occasionally should make sure you do not miss an important court date.
Likewise, you need to keep your attorney, if you have one, updated about your whereabouts, documentation you feel is pertinent to your case and anything else that seems relevant. Maintaining regular contact with your attorney is the best way to ensure no surprises pop up. In the event a surprise does pop up, your attorney will not be able to contact you if you've changed your address or phone number without informing our attorney.
Even absent a surprise, in most matters before the immigration court, the burden of proving you are eligible for the benefit you are seeking falls on one person: you. That means you have to prove you are eligible for whatever you are applying for. This is not criminal court where the burden always falls on the government. There is no innocence until proven guilty. You have to prove everything. That takes a lot of evidence and a deep understanding of your case. That is not something that gets done 2 or 3 days before trial.
8. How should I act and dress?
No one likes a jerk. Even jerks. Treat everyone with respect at the immigration court, especially if they are being a jerk to you. Dress appropriately. Even though the immigration court is not a real court, the consequences of the immigration judge’s decisions are very real and you should dress for the occasion. There is no specific dress code, but what you wear can show a lot about how much you respect the process.
One time I visited an immigration court I had never been to before. An older man was sitting next to the security guards at the entrance to the court in workout clothes. He was cracking jokes and in doing so, made fun of my tie and, worse, made a derogatory comment about LSU being better at football than Arkansas. Normally, I would have told him he could go to hell, but I just stared at him. Sure enough, it turns out it was the immigration judge. Let’s just say I’m glad I did not tell him to go to hell.
9. How do I feed myself?
As a starting point, do not bring food into the court. Why would you bring food to the immigration court? Yeah, the immigration judges do not know either. Do not do it.
More importantly, you don't have to bring food. You'll be in Memphis, one of the best food cities in America. There are several restaurants within walking distance of the immigration court, including the Little Tea Shop, the Blue Plate Cafe and everything on Beale Street. We haven't even started talking about barbecue yet.
10. Anything else?
When you are in court waiting your turn, you should be quiet. During your hearing, you should remain quiet until spoken to. Everything in the immigration court is being recorded, so not only should you remain quiet until it is time to speak, but you should also think about what you say before you say it. You cannot unsay anything in immigration court. It will follow you around forever.
Also, make sure your cell phone is turned off. I have been in courtrooms when cell phones have gone off. You do not want your cell phone to go off.
Nathan Bogart is an immigration attorney at Bogart Immigration, PLLC. He focuses his practice exclusively on immigration law, with a particular focus on removal defense, family petitions and humanitarian options.
Bogart Immigration, PLLC is a group of legal professionals dedicated exclusively to immigration cases. Based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, we represent clients from all over the state of Arkansas and beyond.