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Bloggings: March 19, 2008

by Joel Stewart

Editor's note: Here are the latest entries from Joel Stewart's blog.

March 18, 2008

Nixon Then, Bush Now

On Friday the 14th of March, we had a PERM Workshop in NYC. Participants came from all around the country, and I want to thank them for taking the time and trouble to be with us. The speakers were excellent and provided a stimulating and educational day-long seminar on the entire PERM process.

The luncheon speaker was Leon Wildes, famous for his defense of John Lennon. While I had heard the story once before, I did not understand the background in its entirety. Here is a summary of Leon's fascinating comments.

John Lennon was convicted of possession of some kind of substance in the UK and, as a result, the Nixon administration tried to use that to get John Lennon kicked out of the US. Yoko had a green card, and she was applying for him to get his green card so they could live happily ever after in a building called the Dakota in NY.

Leon is dedicated to preserving our constitutional rights and civil liberties. He saw in John Lennon the opportunity to promote those important values while representing his client. Interestingly, Leon was raised in a very conservative environment and when John came to seek legal assistance, Leon actually knew nothing about cannabis and so forth. He asked John about the substance, whether it was marijuana, and John answered, "No, it's much better than that!"

Since the US laws require mens rea and the UK law did not, Leon Wildes was able to get John Lennon's immigration case dismissed, even though he had been convicted abroad of possession of controlled substance, on the theory that there was no knowing and intentional element to the crime in the UK statute. It took five and a half years, with numerous stages of litigation, first at the INS level, then on reconsideration, then on appeal to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, then to the 2nd Circuit Federal Court in NYC agreed with Leon Wildes and his clients.

Leon told us that the experiences in the 70's surrounding John Lennon's case are reminiscent of current times. Nixon's government had been overreaching, trampling on civil rights, targeting its enemies, while an unpopular war was raging abroad. Nixon had issued special orders for the INS District Director in NY to deny John's green card application and to target him as an undesirable foreign agent. Does any of this sound familiar?

Leon Wildes gave a very moving presentation which left us breathless and filled with emotion. Leon is writing a book about his experience in defending John Lennon. There are also many vignettes about John, Oko and his family. Leon used to visit the Lennons at their apartment on West 72nd Street, always waiting in a white waiting room, and then entering into a white living room where he practiced music with Sean on John Lennon's white piano.

A few years later when John was assassinated at the entrance to his building. Instead of riding inside to the protected area in his limousine,John Lennon liked to get out in front and walk the rest of the way. On that fateful day it cost him his life. I took my young son Jay to Strawberry Fields in Central Park on the occasion when everyone gathered there to commemorate John Lennon's death with a moment of silence. Our next Workshop is in June in Vancouver, and, of course, PERM BOOK II is on its way!