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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

EOIR Bans Art in Immigration Court

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The Arlington Immigration Court recently relocated from Ballston to
Crystal City, Virginia.* The new court is bigger and has public
bathrooms (a BIG improvement for the bladder-impaired).* It is also
totally devoid of art.

One of many walls in the Arlington Immigration Court.

For those of us who practice before the Arlington Court, the bare
walls feel a bit strange.* The old court had portraits of the founding
fathers, various presidents, and some of our founding documents.* You
could also see busts and paintings of various presidents inside the
courtrooms.* One IJ, now retired, was known for her husband's paintings
(mostly flowers), which adorned her courtroom walls. *

In stark contrast, you're lucky to find a light switch on the walls
of the new court.* Now, you might be thinking, "The Court just opened,
so they haven't yet had time to decorate."* Not so.* I asked around
about the barren landscape.* The word on the street is that courtrooms
and waiting areas can no longer be "personalized."* This means no art.* I
contacted the Executive Office for Immigration Review ("EOIR" - the
agency that administers the Immigration Courts) for clarification.*
Their response:

As EOIR is one adjudicative agency with
59 immigration court locations throughout the nation, we strive to
maintain uniform public spaces throughout our facilities.* As with other
federal agencies, private spaces such as judges' chambers and
individual office space may be personalized within reasonable

In this context, "uniform public spaces" means no wall art.* I
suppose I understand the reasoning.* For one thing, if you allow any
art, it is hard to control what ends up on the wall.* If EOIR allows a
portrait of Abe Lincoln, must they also allow a portrait of anti-immigration president Warren G. Harding?* What about a portrait of presidential candidate (and anti-immigrant crusader) Pat Buchanan? *

Also, what about images that might not be culturally sensitive to the
aliens appearing before the Court?* Much as Attorney General John
Ashcroft covered a bare-breasted statue in the Justice Department, might some playboy IJ seek to fill a courtroom with inappropriate images?

Given all the potential pitfalls, it is easier to completely ban art
in the courtroom than to allow art and then try to regulate it.

All the same, I am not a fan of this policy.* I liked going into
courtrooms filled with paintings and statues.* I prefer a "personalized"
courtroom (and waiting room) to an antiseptic one.* There is something
ennobling about practicing law in a room filled with historic and
patriotic images.

Also, while I see the need for IJs to avoid the appearance of
impropriety, it is actual impropriety that concerns me.* If some IJ
adores Warren G. Harding (and there are good reasons to), why not put up
his photo?* I trust that the IJ will make a determination on the merits
of each case, and that a picture of President Harding does not indicate
an anti-immigration bias.* If we trust IJs to make decisions that will
profoundly affect people's lives, we should trust them to use some
common sense in their courtroom decor.

I described the new courtroom ambiance to an asylee friend.* She
feels that the bare walls and lack of art would be "intimidating."

Maybe I am making too big a deal about this.* But there is a long
history of art in courtrooms-it benefits the judges, the lawyers, and
the litigants.* And while I sympathize with the reasons for EOIR's
decision, I think that the benefits of allowing art in court greatly
outweigh the dangers.* To quote George Bernard Shaw: "Without art, the
crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable."

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

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Updated 07-16-2013 at 02:04 PM by JDzubow

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