The HMA Law FirM


A Look Into A Master Hearing 

Last week, I watched a father hug his teenage daughter tight. The joy and relief in both of their eyes was palatable. 

This heartwarming scene was the outcome of the first master hearing I attended. Thanks to Attorney Romana Muzzammel, I learned quite a bit from the experience, including what a master hearing is: a sort of pre-trial where the judge asks the immigrant, the immigrant’s attorney and the government attorney questions before the individual hearing where the judge decides whether or not the immigrant will be deported. 

As someone who had never before stepped into a courthouse, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the hearing. What I definitely didn’t expect was for the courthouse to be an unmarked, average looking building that lacked any external indication of being the place where life changing decisions are made. Throughout the hearing, immigration court surprised me in numerous other ways.

Realization 1: This is Immigration Court, not TV 

I knew enough not to think that the courthouse would be as drama-filled as a TV scene, but I didn’t expect the building to feel so underwhelming. Inside, easygoing security officers met us at the entrance. The hallway walls were relatively bare and devoid of official government insignia. There were a few other attorneys and clients waiting near our hearing room, but not many. Conversations were mumblings of quiet words, with a background of the sound of flipping papers. It was the epitome of mundane.

Once inside the courtroom, we took a seat on one of the rows of benches where attorneys and clients wait for their turn. Instead of tension and animosity, I was surprised to find that everyone was pleasant and nice. The government attorney was not an angry, intimidating figure, rather a regular Joe just doing his job. It was jarring to see young faces at the mercy of the judge without a parent by their side, but the kids maintained their poise, so cool and composed. The only time I really felt suspense was while I sat watching the other attorneys answer questions before the judge. It had me thinking, will the judge react similarly to our case? In the end, however, our hearing was anticlimactic and over in what felt like mere minutes. Having successfully terminated the case, Ms. Muzzammel, our teenage client, her dad and I walked out of the room silently, the other proceedings still going on.   

Monumental decisions were being made, yet the room lacked panicked energy, let alone excitement. It was only after we exited the courtroom, that there was a show of emotion – when the father and daughter embraced. 

Realization 2: The Little Details Make a Big Difference 

I learned that seemingly minor details can have a major sway over the outcome of a case as long as someone is there to pay attention to it. 

The reason that our case was terminated so fast was because the government filed the Notice to Appear (NTA) incorrectly. Although the judge had already given the government sixty days to fix the issue, the mistake was still there. Ms. Muzzammel had just explained to me how it was always a good idea to review the NTA for errors because it was an easy way to end the case – if the judge hadn’t picked up on the mistake in the NTA, the immigration attorney could have. 

For every step of court preparation, there seems to be a million little details to keep track of. Watching the hearing end so quickly made me realize how important it is to keep track of said details. 

Realization 3: The Judge Matters (just like your vote)  

Although helpful to our case, the judge taking the time to review all the NTAs beforehand was out of the ordinary. In addition to looking for mistakes in the NTAs, the judge required all juvenile dockets to be in person, started off by asking the kids questions about their wellbeing, and asked questions that would lead the attorney to consider other legal paths for the juvenile to remain in the US. 

The judge’s evident concern for the kids’ future surprised me. When I asked Ms. Muzzammel about it, she confirmed that we were lucky to get a judge like her. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be impartial, plenty of judges are very anti-immigrant – something that Mr. Trump made sure during his presidency. Prior to the hearing, it hadn’t occurred to me that Mr. Trump’s appointing right-wing judges applied not only to the Supreme Court, but impacted the smaller courts as well. Among the many reasons that voting for president matters, the hearing taught me that ensuring that immigrants have a fair shot at life in the US is another one. 

The master hearing was not as intense as I thought it would be, but it was clearly a chance to make things better or worse for the coming individual hearing (or in our case, prevent an individual hearing from happening altogether). In the end, the smile on the teenage girl’s face made me realize that despite the horrors we hear about the American immigration system, there is hope. 


Iman Brin – July 27, 2023