John Lennon and Young DREAMers
by Leon Wildes
As an exercise in prosecutorial discretion, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to permit over a million young people who were brought to the United States and children and know only this country as home, to remain on without being removed and obtain work authorization. The criteria for inclusion in this special project require that each young person prove that he or she came to the United States under the age of 16, has continuously resided here for over five years, is currently in school, has graduated high school, has obtained a General Education Development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, that he has not been convicted of a crime and is not above the age of 30. This momentous, forward-looking decision as to how best to carry out its immigration enforcement provisions, is based on a decision to allocate limited enforcement facilities and personnel to removing higher priority persons whose removal would aid our national security.
A similar provision was placed before Congress in the DREAM Act, to accord these young people lawful permanent residence status, but never passed.
What does all this have to do with John Lennon? Lennon was placed in deportation proceedings together with his wife, Yoko Ono, in 1972, by the Nixon Administration. The reason for the urgency to remove him at the time was the fact that in 1972, 18 to 21 year olds were first enabled to vote in national elections. Lennon was advocating that we get out of the Vietnam War and a great number of young people were listening. Nixon was more anxious to continue our presence in Vietnam and was sending 18 to 21 year olds off to war. Senator Strom Thurmond suggested to Nixon that removing Lennon be “an appropriate counter measure.”
As part of Lennon’s defense in his deportation case, he claimed that there was a special program called “deferred action” which the INS often used as a discretionary tool to avoid removal of deportable aliens who had special humanitarian reasons for remaining. He filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act and succeeded in securing the files of 1843 such approved cases. Eventually, his case was declared to be a “deferred action” case as well and he ultimately was granted lawful permanent residence status. He was most anxious to publicize the discovery of this humanitarian remedy and make it available to others. It was my privilege to have assisted him in doing so.
Lennon never anticipated that over a million young people, at a stage of life upon which he had his greatest influence, would ever eventuate from his successful lawsuit.
At a time when Congress seems unable to deal fairly with its out-of-date, broken immigration law, it is rewarding to consider how one man’s efforts in this difficult area have paid off. Imagine.
*Leon Wildes, Senior Partner of Wildes & Weinberg P.C., New York’s premier immigration law firm, represented Lennon and Ono in their deportation proceedings. A past President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, he takes pride in his continuing success in immigration cases