Harlem community activist seeks presidential pardon to avoid deportation
After spending 30 years behind bars for a single non-violent drug conviction, Robert Panton, a well-known community advocate in Harlem, faces the threat of deportation to his native Jamaica. Despite his dedication to youth as a community activist, Panton's past conviction puts him at risk of being separated from his family and the community he calls home.
“That’s our hope, that the presidential pardon will go in,” said Panton.
In Aug. 2021, Panton was granted compassionate release by a federal judge in New York. He said throughout the years he’s been actively involved in mentoring vulnerable youth both inside and outside of prison.
His work had continued in Harlem, working with over 150 young people through various programs.
“I set up another program through InGenious, LLC which mentors youth, we have a suicide prevention hotline 24 hours a day that goes directly to my cellphone,” he added.
Panton said he has received support from community leaders and politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. An online petition garnered over 1,000 signatures under #KEEPROBERTHOME. This has all led to a deferment from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement this month, temporarily delaying his deportation scheduled for March.
“Deferment gave us the opportunity to just relax for a minute, but ICE’s position could change at anytime,” said Panton
Nayna Gupta, associate director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, highlights Panton's case as emblematic of the disproportionate sentences faced by Black and brown immigrants.
“It is a common experience, It's particularly true for Black and brown immigrants who live in communities where there is a lot of contact with police and the criminal system,” said Gupta
Recent reforms suggest that Panton's conviction would result in a significantly shorter sentence today. Gupta says his case is exactly in line with what the Biden administration claims to support, making him an ideal candidate for a pardon.
“It doesn't make any sense particularly under a Democratic administration with a president committed to racial justice, who’s committed to ideas of rehabilitation in his own family and personal life, should not be exercising that type of discretion for people like Robert Panton,” said Gupta
For Panton, who is actively working on new projects including a podcast and screenplays meant to uplift, he says he is committed to Harlem.
“What will happen to the youth that are depending on me now? If I was to leave, what would happen to my grandchildren? asked Panton.