Thursday, December 8, 2016

John Lennon -- Gone for 36 Years But Still Active

 Yoko Ono, John Lennon and their immigration attorney, Michael Wildes (right), leave the Immigration and Naturalization Service in New York City on March 16, 1972.

Every December 8 we mourn the loss of John Lennon. This year marks the 36th anniversary of his assassination. Lennon was fatally shot by Mark David Chapman while walking into a New York City apartment on December 8, 1980.

People in my generation find this senseless act so despicable. We understand that Chapman took away the man most responsible for the soundtrack of our lives. Lennon was the musical and cultural icon who exemplified the love and peace movements. His music, more than that of any other popular performer, changed our world. For no reason, we lost him much too soon.

We should remember John Lennon was much more than a talented musician.

Lennon was an activist who spoke his mind about many political issues including the Vietnam War, civil rights, and the struggles of the working class. Thrust into the spotlight as a member of the Beatles, he soon recognized that he could use his celebrity status to not only communicate his own ideas about the world but also to change the way people thought about issues of the day.

Today it is appropriate to speak about a fight waged by John Lennon. It is lesser known than many of his other political exploits; however, it marks an important decision for United States immigration. Considering the times and the leaders, how important it is.

Elizabeth Mitchell of the New York Daily News speaks of Lennon's fight for freedom in America ...

“Who knows what Strom Thurmond had against the Beatles, but the senator from South Carolina certainly knew how to make John Lennon’s life miserable. On Feb. 4, 1972, the 69-year-old, anti–Civil Rights agitator wrote a few lines to Attorney General John Mitchell and President Richard Nixon’s aide, William Timmons, which would end up threatening Lennon with deportation and entangling him in legal limbo for almost four years.

“'This appears to me to be an important matter, and I think it would be well for it to be considered at the highest level,' Thurmond wrote. 'As I can see, many headaches might be avoided if appropriate action can be taken in time.'”

(Elizabeth Mitchell. “How this hastily shot image of John Lennon became an enduring symbol of freedom. New York Daily News. June 11, 2016.)

Thurmond attached a one-page Senate Internal Security Subcommittee report explaining that Lennon appeared to be a threat to Republican interests, particularly their desire to re-nominate Nixon at the San Diego convention that coming summer. The report explained that Lennon was friendly with various left-leaning political activists, including Yippie leader Jerry Rubin.

Word had it that leftists had gathered in New York and discussed the possibility of Lennon appearing at concerts on college campuses to promote voter registration, marijuana legalization, and bus trips to the Republican convention for throngs of willing protesters.

Lennon's friend, photographer Bob Gruen, said the reality was that Lennon felt he shouldn’t endorse or attack individual U.S. candidates. Grune claims Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono strove never to be negative. “They weren’t anti-war. They were pro-peace,” Gruen says. “They weren’t against a politician; they were for voting.”

Yet, despite Lennon's positive intentions, Thurman's letter reached sympathetic ears, and by the end of February, John and Yoko received a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service telling them they had until March 15 to leave the country. John was found to be an “excludable alien.”

Mitchell explained the charges ...

“In 1968, a police drug squad had conducted a warrantless search of his London flat and found a half ounce of hashish. Lennon claimed he hadn’t known the hash was there and, in fact, had swept the apartment three weeks earlier on a tipoff that the squad would be coming. (Since Jimi Hendrix had been a previous tenant he left nothing to chance.) He and Ono had even gotten a friend in the police force to pre-search the place to make sure they were clear. But the raiding officers discovered the stash in a pair of binoculars, found in an untouched box of possessions that had been moved from his previous residence. Lennon pleaded guilty and paid a 150-pound fine. The charge, he thought, was behind him.”

John Lennon eventually spent tremendous money, time, and words battling to remain in New York City. And, unlike most migrants who have problems with their legal status, Lennon and Ono had powerful friends who petitioned the Immigration and Naturalization Service on their behalf.
Bob Dylan wrote a letter on Lennon's behalf. Do did Joan Baez. Others also wrote letters to the service: beat poet Gregory Corso, novelists John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates, painter Jasper Johns, composer John Cage, Leonard Bernstein of "West Side Story," and Joseph Heller of "Catch-22."

On October 30, 1974, John Lennon and Gruen created an image that would make his case succinctly.

On Tom Snyder’s talk show in April 1975, Lennon said, “I love the place. I like to be here. I’ve got a lot of friends here, and it’s where I want to be, Statue of Liberty…welcome.”

Lennon's attorney Leon Wilde said John “understood that what was being done to him was wrong. It was an abuse of the law, and he was willing to stand up and shine the big light on it.”

(Dave Swanson. “The Day John Lennon's Deportation Order Was Reversed. December 07, 2015.)

After years of struggle. Lennon finally received a green card, which allowed him to stay in the U.S. But, most importantly, the files discovered in Lennon's case led U.S. immigration officials to publicize a secret policy.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Irving Kaufman said, “The courts will not condone selective deportation based upon secret political grounds.” He added, “Lennon's four-year battle to remain in our country is testimony to his faith in this American dream.”

"Before the work of Mr. Wildes, deferred action was a complete mystery because there wasn't even a guideline for attorneys and noncitizens," says Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, who teaches immigration law at Penn State University and wrote Beyond Deportation: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Cases.

(Hansi Lo Wang. John Lennon's Deportation Fight Paved Way For Obama's Deferred Action Policy. National Public Radio. August 23, 2016.)

The files showed that for decades, the government had shielded some immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from deportation because of their sympathetic cases.

In fighting the system and exposing the files, John Lennon had effectively changed American immigration policy. It remains pertinent today.

The Obama administration used that policy to create the original Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

"Eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization," said President Obama in a 2012 announcement.

An expansion of the program, as well as the creation of a similar program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, is currently on hold because of legal challenges.

Now, the original DACA program covers more than 700,000 young people brought to the U.S. as children — all in part because of John Lennon.

Today we once more remember John Lennon – musician, song-writer, cultural icon, and revered political activist. Thank you, you dreamer. You truly changed our lives.


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