Washington D.C. (January 4, 2024) – A renowned community leader from Harlem, New York, who has lived in the United States for 50 years filed an emergency request today asking President Biden to pardon a decades-old drug conviction so that he may avoid imminent deportation.
Robert Panton, a 56-year-old Black man who is a beloved father, grandfather, and youth mentor, is represented by the National Immigrant Justice Center and Perkins Coie LLP in an emergency request for a presidential pardon of a single drug conviction from more than 30 years ago. Members of Congress, Harlem community leaders, and over 70 New York and national organizations are supporting Mr. Panton’s pardon request. Mr. Panton’s supporters have asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to delay his deportation so that he may receive a full and fair consideration of his pardon request, which can take several months.
“I know being regretful is not enough. You have to make reparations,” Mr. Panton said. “I wish I could take away the bad decisions I made, but all I can do is just keep working to use those times to guide others. I use my mistakes everyday to help other people, especially kids. For them, for my family, and in recognition of what I am doing, I hope the president will show me redemption.”
In 1992, Mr. Panton received a sentence of life in prison which today would have been significantly shorter due to drug sentencing reforms. Despite Mr. Panton garnering the support of powerful Democratic Party leaders Sen. Charles Schumer, and Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Jerry Nadler, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ordered him to self-deport in March 2024 based on this same conviction.
“A presidential pardon would prevent Robert’s deportation and rectify the racial injustice Robert faces having already served a harsh and disproportionate prison sentence from the ‘War on Drugs’ era, and now a potential second punishment of permanent exile,” said Nayna Gupta, associate director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “Robert’s story is emblematic of the experience of too many other Black men who face heart-crushing consequences at the hands of two broken systems.”
After serving 30 years in federal prison, a federal judge granted release to Mr. Panton in 2021 based on his exceptional service to others and his community during his time in prison. In the few years since his release, Mr. Panton has established a campaign to prevent youth violence, worked with community leads to offer summer programs for kids, and serves as a direct-dial for adolescents experiencing suicidal thoughts.
“Mr. Panton’s story and work in New York City offer a shining example of the profoundly positive effect that rehabilitated individuals can have in our communities,” said U.S. Congressman Jerry Nadler (NY-12th). “In the years since his release, Mr. Panton has become a beloved leader in his community, where he has tirelessly mentored young people through his 'Too Young to Die' campaign.”
In addition, Mr. Panton has been a source of inspiration for his own family, including his son, an officer with the New York Police Department.
"I had this teacher guide me to a beautiful career in law enforcement, and a life of protecting and serving the public,” said NYPD Officer Dajon Panton, Mr. Panton’s son. “Everyday I look at my father's progress, I think of a life without him by my side, and tears would come out of my eyes."
Mr. Panton’s devotion to his family and neighbors is his way of passing on the lessons he learned through incarceration and rehabilitation.
“We believe that Mr. Panton demonstrates the exceptional character, meaningful rehabilitation, and deep commitment to giving back to his community such that his application warrants serious consideration,” said Kathleen M. O’Sullivan of Perkins Coie, his pro bono attorney. “Mr. Panton has already paid a steep price for his involvement in the criminal legal system decades ago, and now deserves this second chance. A pardon will allow Mr. Panton to avoid an additional layer of punishment—deportation to a country he left as a child—and continue to serve as a leader and mentor to others.”
More than 1,000 supporters have signed an online petition calling on ICE to halt Mr. Panton’s deportation. Sign the petition at immigrantjustice.org/KeepRobertHome.