Leon Wildes, Immigration Lawyer Who Defended John Lennon in 1970s Deportation Case, Dies at 90

New York Immigration attorney Leon Wildes, who successfully defended John Lennon and Yoko Ono in court against the effort by the Nixon Administration to deport the ex-Beatle, died on Monday at 90 years old.

Wildes passed away at Lenox Hill Hospital, his son Michael Wildes who currently serves as the Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, said Monday.

“Our beloved Founding Member and renowned immigration attorney Leon Wildes passed away today in Manhattan, surrounded by family,” Wildes’ law firm, Wildes & Weinberg P.C., said in a statement.

Lennon, an antiwar activist and vocal critic of Richard Nixon, was targeted for deportation by Nixon’s administration on the advice of GOP senator Strom Thurmond. The case stretched out for nearly 4 years.

In court, Wildes proved that U.S. immigration authorities had unfairly targeted Lennon, on orders from Nixon himself, in retaliation for his antiwar activism. This culminated in the October, 1975 decision by a federal appeals court that overturned the deportation order, ruling “the courts will not condone selective deportation based upon secret political grounds.”

By this point, Nixon had been out of power for more than a year, having resigned rather than be impeached after the Watergate investigation revealed his knowledge of and participation in criminal wrongdoing related to the 1972 election. His successor, Gerald Ford, wasn’t interested in continuing the vendetta and the case was abandoned. Lennon received his green card in 1976.

The effort to remove Lennon from the United States sparked a public backlash which gave considerable support to Lennon and Ono. Celebrities including Leonard Bernstein, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and more were among those who publicly supported the couple.

The case was rehashed in a 2006 documentary, “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” and in a book by Wildes published in 2016, “John Lennon vs. The U.S.A.: The Inside Story of the Most Bitterly Contested and Influential Deportation Case in United States History.”

Wildes is survived by his wife Alice Goldberg Wildes; sons Michael and Mark; eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

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