Immigration Courts exist for the primary purpose of conducting Removal proceedings.
Removal proceedings are the judicial mechanism the government employs to ascertain whether non-citizens may enter or remain in the United States.
The term "Removal" became significant after the passage of IIRAIRA when it became a blanket term encompassing both the concepts of Deportation and Exclusion.
Prior to this amendment, an alien would be placed in either deportation proceedings or exclusion proceedings. Deportation proceedings determined the right of an alien in the United States to remain in the United States and Exclusion proceedings determined the right of an alien seeking to be admitted to the United States to be admitted.
! Being admitted to the United States is not the same as entering the United States. Admission relates to entering the United States in a lawful status. A person can lawfully enter the United States without status through a mechanism called parole (also called a parole admission. A parole admission means that the aliens body has been permitted to enter the United States for purposes of determining whether he or she can be accorded a lawful status (or, in VERY RARE circumstances, for "humanitarian" reasons.)
The use of the blanket term "Removal" does not really accomplish much. When an alien is put in Removal Proceedings he or she is designated as either "an alien presently in the United States" or "an arriving alien". Sounds kind of like the same distinction drawn between deportation and exclusion proceedings.
The grounds of Removability and the forms of relief available depend in part on whether the alien is arriving or already in the United States.
Removal proceedings are commenced by the filing of a Notice to Appear in the Immigration Court, commonly referred to as an "NTA".
Deportation and Exclusion proceedings were commenced by the filing of an Order to Show Cause in the Immigration Court, commonly referred to as an "OSC".
Many parts of the law as it existed before IIRAIRA are still applicable to cases which were started with OSC's.
Why (old) lawyers make the big bucks:
Even though the new law has been in effect for over 20 years, there are still many cases before the Immigration Courts which were commenced with the filing of OSC's. This is because certain cases can remain on appeal for many years and also because old cases can be reopened even years after the original orders in certain circumstances. Old guys like me who were practicing before the law changed have a distinct advantage in these cases. I am sure there are those who do not share this opinion. (ed.)