Bono pays tribute to Berkeley victims and J-1 visa programme

U2 singer calls Irish summer visa a ‘beautiful, playful arrangement’ with the US

Bono holds up a peace sign at the unveiling of a giant tapestry in honour of John Lennon on Ellis Island. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Bono holds up a peace sign at the unveiling of a giant tapestry in honour of John Lennon on Ellis Island. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images


U2’s Bono paid tribute to the victims and survivors of the Berkeley tragedy and to the J-1 visa summer programme after an event on Ellis Island honouring John Lennon winning his American green card.

Speaking after unveiling a tapestry on Thursday which marked the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s securing permanent US residence after a long legal battle with the authorities, Bono recalled the long tradition of Irish visitors and emigration to America and the access the Irish have enjoyed in the US.

In an interview with The Irish Times at the iconic US immgration centre, he noted the challenge emigrants face entering the US in the current political climate in which immigration reform has stalled.

“I am a long way from the J-1 visa and we have been so spoiled by America but I have to remember that this sort of access that Irish people have here is not to be taken for granted,” he said.

“There are mood swings as we know in political life and it is getting trickier and trickier to be part of this.”

Bono said that the band knew some of the families affected in the Berkeley balcony collapse that killed six students, including five from south Co Dublin where some of the band’s children are in school.

“That’s the kind of upset that you can’t really just ever get over for those families and for their friends,” he said.

“It just brings into sharp relief this beautiful, playful arrangement that we have through J-1 and in his case it went horribly wrong. But mostly it is such an adventure for people coming over here. Irish people have learned and brought back so much from America.”

Bono remarked that when U2 started out there was “such an ease” in emigrating to the US and that it was taken for granted then.

“Now it is really under threat and going into an election year you can bet you are going to hear a lot of that kind of anti-immigrant sounding invective. We saw it with Donald Trump,” he said.

Trump, a Republican presidential candidate, described Mexican immigrants as criminal, rapists and drug-dealers in his campaign announcement speech and has called for a wall to be built along the border to stop immigrants from illegally entering the United States.

Bono described his comments as “just extraordinary.”

He recalled meeting Mexican president Felipe Calderón after a U2 concert and how he told him that there were 1,100 gun stores in the United States along the border with Mexico and that 75 per cent of all murders carried out in Mexico were with American weapons. “Which was the most lethal?” the president asked of the two countries.

At the Ellis Island event in the presence of Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, the U2 frontman claimed Lennon not just as an Irish immigrant but as Irish along with the other three members of The Beatles because of their Irish heritage.

Ellis Island

Bono told this newspaper that Ellis Island, through which 12 million people passed from 1892 to 1954, had randomly popped up in his life recently.

A couple of weeks ago, he said a “very bizarre thing happened;” John Cash jr, son of the late singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, dropped by backstage at a U2 show with handwritten notes of a song that Bono and Johnny Cash had written together.

“The song was called Ellis Island, and I had forgotten that we started this song,” he said.

“What was really bizarre about the coincidence was that day I had just heard a song called Ellis Island from The Corrs’ new album. They just played it for me. It is a really, really special song.”

The Ellis Island event was organised by Art for Amnesty founder Bill Shipsey, the Dublin-based senior counsel, who commissioned the tapestry as a thank you to Ono for granting Amnesty the rights to record cover versions of Lennon’s post-Beatles songs in 2004.

The human rights organisation raised more than $5 million (€4.5 million) in royalties from the songs on an album called Instant Karma, the largest sum of money Amnesty has raised from a single project.

Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, referring to the 12 million people displaced inside and around Syria by the conflict, called on the international community to support the group’s Open To Syria campaign to take in displaced people from Syria.

“The symbolism of this place shouldn’t be just historic,” he said, referring to Ellis Island. “It should be something that we can do today.”

Under the campaign, he wants countries to take in 300,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees by 2016 and believes that the US should be able to take in “its fair share.”

“Not only do we want people to open their hearts and people to open their wallets but in this case we also have to open our borders. It is what’s required at this moment,” he said.

U2, who have been supporting Amnesty International since 1984, play the last date of their US Innocence + Experience tour on Friday, ending a run of shows at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The European leg of the tour kicks off in Turin on September 4th and runs until November 15th with concerts in Amsterdam, Stockholm, Berlin, Barcelona, Antwerp, Cologne, London, Glasgow and Paris.