On January 26th, 2021, the New Way Forward Act was reintroduced to Congress. The bill looks to transform the U.S. immigration system by moving away from policies that criminalize, incarcerate, and deport immigrants and repealing some of the most harmful provisions of the 1996 immigration laws.
NIJC's client Robert shared his story to demonstrate why the vision of the New Way Forward Act is needed now. His full statement (first in video and then in transcript form) is below.
My name is Robert Savio Panton. I was born in Jamaica; my family came to the United States when I was four years old. The United States – and Harlem, NY – have always been my home.
I wish I could speak to you in person today, but I am trapped in immigration detention, waiting in fear, and separated from my family. This shouldn’t be the case.
Last August, I was granted a compassionate release after spending nearly 30 years in federal criminal custody for a nonviolent drug conviction. The same day of my release, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took me into custody. During the worst pandemic in our history and with pre-existing medical conditions for respiratory issues, I have been detained by ICE for over six months.
This is a nation of second chances; it’s time for mine. Thirty years in prison, and my efforts to improve my life while behind bars cleared my debt to society. When my petition for released was granted by a federal judge, I remember thinking, “Finally, justice… delayed.”
Only, instead of being free, ICE picked me up from the criminal correctional facility to take me to an immigrant detention center. I was devastated. I hoped ICE would hold me for a bit and then let me go to my family. But six months later, I am still here. The biggest pain is for the people waiting for me—my daughter, son, and sisters. Every day ICE punishes not just me, but my family by keeping us separated.
While I wait for my immigration court hearing, I remain in fear. I am afraid that I will contract COVID-19 due to the staff’s failure to adhere to COVID-19 procedures as recommended by the CDC. I thought conditions were bad in federal prison – they are so much worse in immigration detention.
Our legal system has something called “double jeopardy,” where you can’t be punished twice for the same crime. Because I am an immigrant, I’m being punished again and again. Our current laws continue to punish individuals – like me -- even after we complete our sentences. There are other people like me, still stuck in the system and facing the same situation of a double injustice. We should be able to rejoin our families and communities.
The New Way Forward Act would take steps to address this double injustice. I strongly support this effort and feel proud to speak in support of it to the public and Congress. This is the kind of change we need.
In my case, the punishment itself has become a crime. It’s time for a new way forward.