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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

What Not to Wear in Court

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From my friend, who has observed many court hearings, but prefers to remain anonymous:

Imagine showing up to one of the most important meetings in your life, wearing a top cut so low that there is an eminent risk of "wardrobe malfunction" or maybe with pants hanging so low it's a miracle that you've not tripped as you entered the room.  

While many people have learned much about courtroom etiquette from television, such as the notion to stand up when the judge enters the courtroom, an aspect that seems to be lacking is the need to dress appropriately.  As the weather becomes warmer and warmer, it seems to bring more and more examples into court of what not to wear as people's efforts to dress lightly clash with the more formal atmosphere in the court.

Though there is no formal dress code when appearing before immigration court and immigration officers, asylum seekers and their witnesses should keep in mind that in order not to take away the focus from their own or another's testimony some of the following guidelines should be kept in mind:

Hats, caps, bandanas or any head dress should not be worn unless they form part of one's religious attire.  Women should avoid wearing tube tops, tank tops, midriff, halter tops, short shorts or any other revealing clothing.  Clothing should not have obscene or profane language or illustrations, nor should one wear gang-related attire.  Clothing must cover all undergarments for both men and women.  It is also best to avoid wearing sports jerseys and brand promotional T-shirts.

If you can wear it to a drag show, it's probably safe to say that you should not wear it in court.

When it comes to shoes, one should avoid wearing flip flops (no matter how expensive they are) and no one should come to court in bare feet (You'd be surprised.)

Avoid wearing heavy perfumes, as someone might be allergic, and the hearing or interview you have been waiting for so long might have to be postponed when that person becomes ill.

It is a good idea to also remember that during summer, most buildings have central air and can be very cold, if not downright freezing.  Hearings, interviews, and even the wait for either can be very lengthy.  Carrying a sweater or jacket is a wise move, as this item can be removed if the court/interview room is warm.

One of the best ways to think about what you should wear is to ask yourself: Is this something I would wear to my church, mosque, synagogue, temple or other place of worship.  If you can wear it there, chances are you can wear it to court.  And while fashion consultant might not be part of an attorney's formal job description, it would be good for the client to be reminded that dressing neatly and properly for court is an important part of the courtroom etiquette.

Dressing properly for court is a way to show one's respect to the court and the proceedings; this same courtesy should be extended to USCIS officers.  After all, in the end, it is you who benefits.

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  1. Ivan  Yacub's Avatar
    My former boss, who is now an Immigration Judge in New York, told me the story of a 212(c) case he handled as an attorney in Chicago. The witness sits; the judge administers the oath, and the witness takes off his jacket.

    My former boss conducts a 212(c) hearing. He claims that the hearing went fairly well. From the bench, the Immigration Judge issued his decision. As part of the decision, the judge said that he will grant the case. He had some reservations, however. The Respondent was wearing a tee-shirt that read, "party till you ****." In any event, the equities weighed in favor of the Respondent and the 212(c) waiver was granted.
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