In 1972, as President Richard Nixon was running for re-election, John Lennon was encouraging anti-war Americans to “Give Peace a Chance” by voting against him.
Nixon’s solution: Deport John Lennon.
Thousands of celebrities and average Americans petitioned immigration authorities so Lennon could remain in the U.S. But it was a talented, upstart lawyer whose novel defense argument won the case – and formed the foundations of the future Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Lawyer Leon Wildes discovered that Immigration and Naturalization Services (now DHS) was not enforcing immigration law in every case but was secretly using “prosecutorial discretion” for what it called “non-priority cases.”
Prosecutorial discretion is essentially deferred action. It’s the ability of the government to defer deporting individuals who don’t pose a danger to their communities, in order to focus their limited resources on deporting people who’ve committed crimes.
The Lennon case marked the first time prosecutorial discretion was publicized.
“Thanks to John Lennon and Leon Wildes, deferred action went public, and there was more information available to attorneys and advocates seeking to use deferred action as a remedy or protection from removal,” Professor Shoba Wadhia, director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights at Pennsylvania State University, told WPSU.
Wadhia’s book Beyond Deportation chronicles how Lennon became the unlikely frontman for immigration law.
Decades later, DREAMers and their allies requested that prosecutorial discretion be used for specific deportation cases. After the DREAM Act failed to pass in 2010, the young activists requested a wider “administrative relief.” More than 100 law professors wrote a letter reassuring President Obama of his authority to protect young immigrants from deportation using prosecutorial discretion.
After a battle that extended to the realm of social media, on June 12, 2012, President Obama issued an executive action enacting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Currently, an extended version of DACA as well as DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) are mired in court battles.
How long will it be before these forms of prosecutorial discretion are adopted? Like John Lennon, we can only imagine.