Harlem community leaders are coming together this week to call on the Biden administration to halt its plans to deport Robert Panton, a beloved father, grandfather, community leader, and youth mentor.
Despite Mr. Panton garnering the support of powerful Democratic Party leaders from New York including Sen. Charles Schumer, and Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Jerry Nadler, the Biden administration has refused to exercise its authority to stop his deportation and allow him to remain in the United States so he may continue to serve his community and care for his family.
Mr. Panton, his National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) legal team, and his supporters, will be available for press interviews before and after his check-in at the New York ICE Field Office at 26 Federal Plaza, scheduled for Wednesday, September 27, at 11 a.m.
“If the United States would deport me from America, the only country I know, my community would lose the benefit of a reformed man who now has knowledge to give to the youth,” Mr. Panton said as he prepared for the ICE appointment. “My grandchildren are just learning about their grandfather, who helps them mentally and as a role model, which is what I lacked growing up, not having male guidance at times. My children will be losing love only a father can give. If I am punished again with deportation, a lot of people are going to suffer for a crime I already paid for.”
Mr. Panton, who came to the United States when he was four years old and has lived here for more than 50 years, faces deportation to a country he does not know based on a single criminal conviction over three decades ago. After exercising discretion in favor of Mr. Panton for two years, ICE recently reversed course and ordered Mr. Panton to report to the New York ICE Field Office this Wednesday to be placed on an ankle monitor. He has been told he must voluntarily deport or be deported within six months.
Mr. Panton was released from prison by a federal judge in August 2020 after serving 30 years in prison for a single drug conviction during the height of the U.S. government’s “War on Drugs.” Like many other Black men, Mr. Panton suffered the disproportionate treatment of the racially unjust criminal legal system. Today, due to recent reforms, that same conviction would result in a sentence of around six years.
Now living in Harlem, where he grew up, Mr. Panton’s devotion to his family and neighbors is his way of passing on the lessons he learned through incarceration and rehabilitation. He launched the Too Young to Die campaign in partnership with community-based youth organizations, and also partnered with Lead by Example Reverse the Trend to run a summer youth program. In addition, he 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."
“Robert has done everything possible to stay with his family. Over two years ago, in an exercise of discretion, after he already had completed an unjustly long criminal sentence, ICE released him from detention and allowed him to return to Harlem,” said NIJC Attorney Olivia Abrecht, who is representing Mr. Panton. “Now, two years later, the U.S. government can once again choose to exercise discretion and grant him ‘deferred action’ so he can remain with his loved ones and pursue a presidential pardon for his single conviction. Doing so would be consistent with ICE’s own policies.”
Neighbors, colleagues, friends, and allies also have spoken out to support Mr. Panton:
Antonio Hendrickson, founder of Lead by Example Reverse the Trend said: "All I can say about this man is he would be a great asset to the community, and to young people. He's able to reach the young people and meet them where they are and educate them about the criminal justice system, a place we know too much about."
Sheila Davis Dodson, manager at Urban Home Ownership Corporation said: "The personality, the love and the care Robert has for young adults, it speaks volumes. There are not too many men out here supporting young adults like he does. I would like ICE to please consider everything, for him to be able to stay here with his family and his kids and to be able to continue doing good in his career."
Wil Occelin of the Clemency Coalition of New York said: "It is very sad to see another brother, Robert Panton, like myself going through the same injustice the American Legal System puts on migrants. The Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that ‘No person shall be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.’ Yet, for a noncitizen migrant, the punishment never ends. Mr. Panton needs to be home with his family and community, here in Harlem where he has lived since he was four years old."
Yasmine Farhang of the Immigrant Defense Project said: “As ICE insists on dehumanizing Robert Panton with an ankle shackle and plans for imminent deportation, we stand with Robert, his family, and the 16 other organizations that have called on ICE not to tear him from the community he gives so much to. We call on Secretary Mayorkas and President Biden to confront the irreversible harm that they will cause to his family and community here in Harlem.”
To request interviews with Mr. Panton and his supporters, contact NIJC Director of Communications Tara Tidwell Cullen at (312) 833-2967 or by email.