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How John Lennon Exposed a Secret Government Policy

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Imagine a time when a person could exist having never heard of The Beatles. In 1972, when Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) attempted to deport John Lennon, he hired an immigration attorney that would change the world. Amazingly, his attorney had never heard of him and had no idea that he was about to transform government policy.

To fight the decision to deport Lennon, they not only sought to stop it entirely, but at the very least were trying to delay the proceedings so that Yoko Ono could continue her custody battle (which was taking place in the US), and search for her child, who was abducted by the father (not Lennon). What was achieved went well beyond that, and exposed a secret government program.

Secret Government Program Revealed

During the Nixon administration, John Lennon was viewed as a threat to the current administration's political platform. It was no secret that Nixon was did not approve of the rock & roll music. The big revelation from Lennon's deportation case was that INS and the government had a secret program that would designate certain immigrants as priority or non-priority for purposes of deportation. Obviously, those in the non-priority group would be safe from deportation. Through thoughtful and dutiful use of Freedom of Information Act requests, Lennon's lawyer was able to discover nearly 2,000 incidences of the secret program.

In exposing the secret program, Lennon's lawyer forced INS's hand into officially recognizing the program. In doing so, the INS also released official guidance on how the program would be applied which curbed the program's misuse. President Obama's current deferred action policy is rooted in the program that Lennon's case exposed.

John Lennon's Deportation Case

While the exposé of the secret program proved critical in Lennon's case, what may have been more critical was the technical application of the US law allowing deportation for drug convictions. Lennon's 1968 conviction for possession of "cannabis resin," aka hashish, from the UK, was being used as the basis for his deportation. The law specifically used the term "marijuana" and Lennon's lawyer skillfully differentiated between marijuana and hashish. Lennon famously testified when asked about the difference: "Hash is much better than marijuana."

Lennon was granted a waiver and his deportation denied. Likely, a strong motivating factor in the decision was Ono's missing child and custody battle.

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