John Lennon was and continues to be an icon in music, counterculture, popular culture, fashion, and self-expression. But would you guess that he was also the face of the most high-profile deportation case in U.S. history? Yep, me neither. The Nixon administration hated the countercultural movement, or as WASPs called them: “hippies.” In Tricky Dick’s cloud of paranoia, he sought out anyone who could bring about an upheaval. John Lennon was foreign, anti-war, had a large platform with his music and wasn’t afraid to speak out. A dangerous combination. Nixon saw him as Public Enemy No. 1 and tried to kick him out of the country. Leon Wildes intimately knows the case because he was Lennon’s lawyer! Finally giving his side of the story in John Lennon Vs. The USA (American Bar Association, August 7, 2016), I was able to take a moment of his time for the ‘One Question and Answer’ series.
Question: With you, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono fighting against the most powerful government in the world, and the most notorious presidency in American history, was there any point where you thought you couldn’t fight on?
This question requires a simple answer: no. I was never going to give up. Every time the court denied a motion, I appealed. I sued elsewhere. Even when I lost a battle, I didn’t see it as an overall defeat. I went on to try some other visa, some other approach.
John, Yoko and I were determined. We had to be. The government was equally pernicious, and we had to do everything we could to keep up the fight.
The Nixon administration had already determined the outcome before the case even began. It didn’t matter who was right and who was wrong—they were going to deny us anyway. They were malicious and acted illegally, rejecting cases that could have been approved. They didn’t want us to interfere with their plans for President Nixon’s re-election. They were using John as a political pawn.
This was not a normal matter. It took almost five years for John and Yoko to get their Greencards. Throughout that time, I never once spoke with them about giving up. I never told them that there was a big chance we would lose, even though I sometimes felt discouraged on the inside and feared we would not succeed. I forged ahead and kept appealing and filing new motions.
I didn’t want to disappoint John and Yoko. I felt that it would be wrong to quit trying. I was so convinced the government was absolutely incorrect, that we were fighting a very noble fight, and that history would side with us eventually.
When I called to tell John our case was approved, he said, “But I thought you told me we would never win?”
I knew from the get-go that I couldn’t assure them that we would win, but I also knew I would do everything in my power to reach a favorable outcome.