In this episode, Jon Velie and Dave Kelso examine Lennon’s immigration battle and the court ruling that eventually led the Obama administration to release DACA as an executive order.
Listen to the episode below.
John Lennon was a founding member of the Beatles whose immigration case became the foundation for what is known today as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act.
History of DACA
On June 4, 2019, the House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), originally proposed in 2001 by a Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and a Democratic senator Dick Durbin. The bill was introduced and re-introduced several times but was not never passed by Congress nor signed into law. This lead to the release of an executive order by Obama Administration exercising discretion over Deferred Adjunction, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Meaning), the government was not obligated to deport people just because they could.
What Deferred Action does is defer the action of deporting people who came into the U.S., usually without visas, as children. Many of whom came from Mexico or the Southern border illegally. To qualify for Deferred Action (as outlined in the Dream Act), the individual must have arrived before the age of 17 and filed before the age of 31. DACA recipients cannot have committed a crime and must have graduated high school, have their GED or gone into the military.
Currently, DACA is being used as a political football for either party. During Trump’s campaign for president, he said that he would not overturn DACA. Then he used it as a bargaining chip to fund his southern border wall.
Another reason Trump promised to keep DACA in place is to avoid harm to U.S. companies. There are a million or so DACA recipients who are working for American companies that would be deported. So it really does not make sense to strip companies of qualified, productive, law-abiding employees.
John Lennon’s Deportation Proceedings
John Lennon entered the United States in 1971 on a B1/B2 Visitor Visa. In 1972, Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) initiated deportation proceeding for John Lennon and Yoko Ono. According to INS, Lennon’s 1968 conviction for marijuana possession in London rendered him ineligible for admission into the U.S.
Curiously, Lennon’s conviction was for cannabis resin, a negligible amount. According to today’s U.S. immigration laws, possession of narcotics can be a basis for deportation if it is more than 30 grams of marijuana. So Lennon would have been exempt, but the U.S. government was going after him anyway.
John Lennon was not loved by everybody in the government, especially in the Nixon administration. The real reason behind these deportation proceedings was Lennon’s involvement in the anti-war movement. Lennon was a British citizen who had become one of the most vocal critics of the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. The Nixon administration believed Lennon’s anti-war activism that reached 18-to 21-year-olds would cost Nixon his reelection. This was the first election in which 18-year-olds could vote making 18-to 21-year-olds a vital demographic.
In a 1972 memo, Republican Senator Strom Thurmond suggested deportation proceedings as “a strategic counter-measure” against Lennon.1 Thurmond advised Acting Attorney General John Mitchell, who was also chairman of Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign that removing Lennon would be the appropriate political action.
Leon Wildes and The Deportation Battle
In 1972, John Lennon hired an attorney named Leon Wildes, who has become an immigration legend because of this case. Perhaps one of the funniest things about this case is that when Lennon walked into Leon Wildes’ office, Wildes’ had no clue who John Lennon was. At this point, the Beatles had already become a worldwide sensation. They had released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club, played the Shea Stadium, released the White Album and broken up.
On March 23, 1973, John Lennon was ordered to leave the United States within 60 days. 2 Ono, on the other hand, was granted permanent residency. Leon Wildes’ strategy for John Lennon’s case was to compile 1,800 instances where an individual could have been deported but were not.
Another consideration made for Lennon’s case was the disappearance of Ono’s daughter, Kyoko. Yoko Ono and her ex-husband Anthony Cox were in the midst of a custody battle in 1971 when Cox disappeared with Kyoko. The disappearance of Lennon’s step-daughter was the primary reason he needed to stay with his wife in the U.S.
John Lennon battled the deportation proceedings until October 8, 1975, when the deportation attempt was barred. In what would become the foundation for DACA, a Court of Appeals stated: “the courts will not condone selective deportation based upon secret political grounds.”3 Leon Wildes’ strategy had worked, he successfully demonstrated that just because the government could deport someone did not mean there was an obligation to deport the individual. In 1976, Lennon became a permanent resident.
Lennon, Obama and the Legal Basis of DACA
The Obama Administration’s basis for creating a policy that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was rooted in the Court of Appeals’ finding for Lennon’s case. Obama applied the Court’s ruling to children who were brought to the U.S. illegally and were productive members of society. The President of the United States, USCIS, Homeland Security, and all immigration-related agencies do not have to deport someone if they do not believe that they should.
Basic DACA Requirements and Immigrant Scapegoating
The purpose of DACA was to create policy around Deferred Adjunction for people who had no choice in coming to America illegally. These are people who were brought here and many have never lived any place else.
To qualify for DACA, the individual cannot have a criminal record. They must also have a high-school education, GED and/or enlisted in the military. These are working, non-criminal members of society, but immigration has become politically divisive.
People and political groups are circling our immigrant population, pointing their fingers and saying, “These are the bad guys.” It makes these Americans feel better because if things are not going well for them, they have someone to blame. Ironically, we really need immigrants.
If you think about it right now, the Baby Boomers are exiting the workforce in higher numbers every year. So it is not just bad jobs that we need immigrants to fill, we need them for all jobs.
The Future of DACA
The bill that the House passed (DREAM Act) would grant DACA recipients with Conditional Permanent Resident Status for up to 10 years. This would help increase their economic productivity since they would not have to worry about being deported. That would save the U.S. lots of money built into the cost of deporting people. Frankly, we could spend those dollars elsewhere.
However, it is a political year, and immigration is very much at the center of the political divide. Immigration is splitting along partisan lines even though it really should not be. Republicans who own companies that need people to work at their companies in various ways benefit from immigration. Immigrants are part of our communities, and any one of them can be a Republican too.
The high level of deportations, especially for former military veterans is alarming. Foreign combat veterans being deported. This issue does not have to be political; it is just being used as a political device.
America needs a shift in dialogue, from the fear of insurgence across southern borders to the benefits the United States reaps from immigration, i.e., being a global economic leader.
The Shining City on the Hill
There is no better place, no better country in the world where anyone can make it. Not everyone does, but as the leader, in the world’s economy, there is a far greater opportunity. There are so many countries where people are limited in the amount of success they can have. But in the United States of America, a good idea and hard work can go a long way.
There are many different ways to immigrate to the United States and various very sophisticated processes that can be used. Whether it is to invest in a company under the L1, E2 or EB5 visa or to come over as a professional under the H-1B, TN or E3 visa, entering to go to school under the F1 or the N1 and join our workforce after – all are achievable with the right guidance. There really is a chance to make it in the country where anybody can make a life for themselves.
- Wiener, Jon (1990). Come Together: John Lennon in His Time. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-06131-8.
- Wiener, Jon (1999). Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-22246-5.
- Coleman, Ray (1992). Lennon: The Definitive Biography. New York: Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-098608-7.