The precedent set by John Lennon’s deportation fight in the mid ’70s is the basis of a controversial executive order President Barack Obama is expected to issue to save many immigrants threatened with deportation, said Leon Wildes, the lawyer whose work prevented John Lennon from being deported in the 1970s, in an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Last World With Lawrence O’Donnell” on Nov. 18. The Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 19 that the president will announce his executive action Thursday.
A guest on O’Donnell’s previous show, Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute, said the first person who was saved from deportation using the same precedent Obama will base his order on was Lennon. O’Donnell, using a word from the song “Imagine,” called him “America’s first immigration dreamer.”
Lennon’s conviction for cannibis resin (hashish) possession was the basis of the Nixon Administration’s efforts to deport him. Wildes said he asked Lennon if hashish was marijuana. “Oh no, much better than marijuana,” he said.
O’Donnell said Wildes discovered through the Freedom of Information Act that the government was using ‘prosecutorial discretion’ in targeting Lennon, and forced the government to release guidelines it hadn’t had previously. These would enable some immigrants to legally work while their cases were pending. O’Donnell said this will form the justification for President Obama’s order. “It is an authority he might not have if John Lennon didn’t bring in Leon Wildes to fight Richard Nixon’s Immigration and Naturalization Service.”
Lennon, talking about Wildes in an interview with Dick Cavett, said, “We went to an immigration lawyer who knew about immigration. And he has really been surprised because he’s worked in immigration for 15 years. He’s really been surprised by some of the things that have gone on.” (You can see Lennon and Wildes talking about the case with Tom Snyder on “The Tomorrow Show” in a video on this page.)
O’Donnell then introduced Wildes and his son, immigration attorney Michael Wildes. The senior Wildes said Lennon knew the case was setting an important legal precedent. “Actually, John asked me when I explained to him that this had great potential for other people … he asked me whether I would continue studying it and publish some articles on it so that other lawyers might be able to use it in the future. It was very important to him,” Wildes said. The attorney wrote a lengthy article for the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Alumni Review about the case.
“The legal precedent established in John Lennon’s immigration case 42 years ago is the first legal building block that gave President Obama the authority to executive action to, in effect, grant new status to the Dreamers in June of 2012,” O’Donnell said. It was then that the president issued an order to prevent the deportation of immigrant students who didn’t present a risk to national security or public safety that they could request a temporary stay and apply for work authorization.
Lennon, talking in August, 1975 talking about why he wanted to stay in the U.S., said, “It’s still where I like to be. It’s still Paris or Rome to me, not like they used to be thousands of years ago. I wanna be here. I want to be able to be here and be in England and France, and so travel wherever I want.” And as he told Tom Snyder, “I love the place. I want to be here.” You can see the full report from “Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” here.