Lawyers for Irishman Keith Byrne, threatened with deportation from the US over a charge for possessing cannabis in Ireland 14 years ago, plan to invoke John Lennon before federal courts in an attempt to secure his residency.
Joe Hohenstein, one of the Corkman’s legal team, said the ex-Beatle’s threatened deportation in the 1970s was over “exactly the same charge” which has hampered Mr Byrne’s struggle for a green card.
In 1972, US president Richard Nixon’s White House ordered Lennon – who had been living in New York with his wife Yoko Ono for a year at the time – out of the country.
It was an election year, and the famous couple were outspoken in their protest against the Vietnam War, urging people to give peace a chance by voting Nixon out of office.
Lennon’s charge for cannabis possession in London in 1968 was cited by the Nixon administration as reason for his being improperly allowed into the US. After a three-year fight against deportation proceedings, a three-judge federal panel ruled his conviction in Britain didn’t meet American standards of justice.
A year later, he won permission to remain on as a permanent resident.
“The British version of marijuana possession is identical to the Irish version,” said Mr Hohenstein.
“That is – even under the current US immigration law – not something that should make someone what we call inadmissible.
“That is one of the main things we will be trying to bring home when we file these papers in court.”
Mr Byrne said the minor cannabis charge 14 years ago in his hometown of Fermoy, Co Cork, was the “big issue”.
“We have been trying to correct it and find the right person to hear our argument,” he told RTÉ’s Drivetime.
“I’m embarrassed for the government of Ireland and the government of the United States for something like that to ruin my life, my wife’s life, my children’s lives.
“People are out there doing serious crimes and they can go wherever they please. It is horrendous . . . Why should that ruin my future?”
Mr Byrne (37), who lives in Philadelphia, was arrested by Ice (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials last month and spent two weeks in prison, under a Trump-ordered crackdown on illegal immigration.
The father-of-three overstayed his ESTA visa waiver when he entered the country in 2007 and married his American wife Keren two years later. His attempts to regularise his residency ever since were complicated by the cannabis possession charge.
Mr Hohenstein said he would be filing two different court applications in the ongoing battle against deportation: one to a federal appeals court, on the removal of his deportation order; another in a lower federal court, appealing the decision to deny Mr Byrne his green card.
The lawyer said Mr Byrne had put his wife Keren through nursing school, helped her build a career as a registered nurse and that their family connections in the US are “extremely strong”.
The US immigration system deals very “severe and harsh consequences for minor incidents” which have a “really disproportionate impact on individual persons and their US citizen families”, he said.
But he believes the deportation efforts are the result of a “misunderstanding” and that Mr Byrne’s “interaction with the authorities in Ireland do not make him inadmissible in the US.”
Mr Byrne said he was “giving no energy” to the thought of having to leave the US.
“I don’t want to think about something that may never happen,” he said. “I will think of that when I’m on a plane. Right now, I’m thinking of how I can stay here and continue.”