John Lennon wanted to be an American, but America’s government in the early 1970s didn’t want him to be one.
He loved New York and lived there during the last years of his life, but it took a ridiculous four years of legal battling to get permanent residency status in the U.S. During those years, the U.S. government was actively trying to deport him from the country, rather than welcome the former Beatle with open arms. It was an incredibly stressful time for Lennon, who at times was in fear for his life. All he wanted to do was live in the country he had come to love so much.
Everyone loved John Lennon, right?
He was a famous musician and composer, a peace activist, and an intellectual well read man with great political ideas. So why was the United States government working so hard to kick him out when he wanted to be here so badly? Because of all the reasons just listed.
John had given them an easy excuse. He had a conviction for possession of marijuana in England. The evidence had been planted, but he plead guilty ironically so they would not deport his wife Yoko.
But that would be the “reason” for deportation in the early 70’s from America.
The real issue was political. 1972 put him in the crosshairs of President Nixon’s administration. He was outspoken, to put it mildly, and especially about his disagreement with the Vietnam War.
John and Yoko moved to New York for good in the summer of 1971 after Lennon’s album “Imagine” was recorded in England. After lengthy stays in various hotels, they finally settled at a flat in the West Village until 1973 when they moved to the Dakota apartments.
It was there that John and Yoko were introduced to the biggest political leftist radicals of the time, Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin and Abbey Hoffman. Rubin was an active anti-war protester, had co-founded the “Yippie” movement. Lennon would regret these associations later in his life, and not just for the strife it caused him with the U.S. government. He felt naïve and used.
And It would be these associations that landed Lennon under the microscope of the Nixon administration. The FBI files show their efforts to follow him, tap his phone, and issued deportation orders stating his prior drug conviction, but really it was because they simply wanted him and his anti-war rhetoric away from American voters.
The truth was that while Lennon was indeed against the Vietnam War, and was promoting the idea of peace, he did not aspire to the violent plans and tactics that Rubin and his radicals were planning, and he told them as much. But the government didn’t get that memo. Since it was now legal for 18-year-olds to vote, they were terrified that Lennon would have enough influence over the youth in the country to sway the vote and lose Nixon’s second term.
When the four-year grueling case finally came to a close in early October, 1975, right before Lennon’s 35th birthday, his attorney made a great final point to the Judge in the courtroom. John Lennon had been illegally persecuted by the government for his beliefs: “There is substantial reason to believe that official government action was based principally on a desire to silence political opposition squarely protected by the First Amendment.”
The Judge ruled in John’s favor, saying, “Lennon’s four year battle to remain in our country is testimony to his faith in the American dream.” The deportation order was overturned. John and Yoko were delirious with joy. Their son Sean was born on John’s birthday. Life was good again.
By the time this happened, of course, Nixon was long out of office, having resigned a year earlier. Gerald Ford was now president, and there was no further government objection to John Lennon being in the country
John got his green card July 27, 1976, which made him eligible to apply for citizenship in 5 years. Ironically, July 4, 1976 was the 200th bicentennial of our nation’s Declaration of Independence from Britain. And to John, it marked the path to his freedom as well.
Sadly, John would not live long enough to apply for citizenship in 1981. He was killed December 8, 1980. In New York City. The city he loved so much.