America needs a second chance program for deported immigrants

President Donald Trump gave newly pardoned Jon Ponder a gift that so few reformed ex-convicts in America receive — redemption.

The president announced the news of his pardon to the shocked and tearful convicted bank robber on the second night of the Republican National Convention. Ponder is founder of the nonprofit group Hope for Prisoners which supports former inmates so they can successfully reenter the workforce, their families and communities.

“He has created one of the most [successful re-entry programs], Hope For Prisoners, in Las Vegas,” the president said in a video aired during the live transmission. “Hope for prisoners is a movement that began as a dream, in a tiny prison cell, and is now making a difference in the lives of thousands, truly bringing hope that there is an opportunity and a community that is waiting and willing to offer them a second chance.”

“Jon we honor your devotion to showing returning citizens that they are not forgotten,” Trump said. “I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream.”

Ponder grew up in New York and was first arrested at the age of 12 after living a turbulent life. He spent the next 25 years shuffling in and out of prison before committing bank robbery. Although he faced up to 23 years in federal prison for his crime, he was only sentenced to serve five. He turned to religion and founded his nonprofit organisation in 2009, before he was granted clemency by the Nevada Pardons Board earlier this year.

Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume said, “It was striking to see this pardon granted on live television,” adding “The obvious emotion with which it was received by Jon Ponder, that is perhaps the most powerful moment of the night.”

“I serve on the board of a Christian youth home in Virginia not far from Washington where miracles are done on a continuing basis with the hardest cases of the young kids,” Hume explained. “These faith-based programs that turn lives around really do work and Jon Ponder is an example of that.”

Criminality is a phenomenon that has existed in the human race from time immemorial, yet people who speak and look different and are considered ‘foreign’ are expected to be morally perfect in order to enjoy the benefits of permanent residency. If they should ever run afoul of the law, everything they have ever worked for and all the people they love will be ripped away from them forever.

Many believe that citizens should be sheltered from foreign criminals and they blame lax immigration laws and weak border security for any act of criminality. Legal immigrant criminals trigger extreme levels of xenophobia, paranoia and intolerance, resulting in inhuman punishment for their crimes with no relief under the law.

Many human rights advocates and immigration attorneys have been expressing concern over many years about the current US law which has wrenched away family members who have long established roots in the United States and banished them home with no hope of return. Calls for ending the pain and suffering that immigrant families have endured for decades with more reasonable policies in the interest of family reunification have fallen on deaf ears.

In the face of high joblessness and the vilification of criminal activity among legal immigrants, the government and citizens of the U.S. have taken a one-size-fits-all approach: criminals should simply be sent home. It has proven to be very politically popular to simply ignore the basic humanity of any permanent resident who commits any crime at any age with a simple, permanent solution.

Immigration advocates have been vociferously championing the cause of allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the country and fighting for the reunification of their families but the mass deportation of green card holders is rarely considered.

Perhaps President Trump may be the political leader who finally makes a historic decision to strengthen legal immigrant families by offering their deported immediate family members the opportunity for reentry if they have displayed that they have changed their lives and deserve redemption.

The changes to the immigration law in 1996 vastly expanded the crimes that fall into the category of ‘aggravated felonies.’ Prior to 1996 this description was limited to crimes involving murder and drug trafficking. Under current law any crime for which an individual serves a year in jail makes a legal immigrant eligible for deportation.

Courts have lost jurisdiction to hear the cases of any permanent resident who has been handed a sentence of imprisonment of one year or more regardless of the nature of the crime committed.

Advocates have been fighting to give green card holders who commit minor offences a chance to stay in the country. Those who came here as children and committed felonies, including those who were tried as adults, are at the greatest disadvantage because they are often torn away for life from their immediate family members. These young people have been written off by the system and viewed as incorrigible.

Will some of them continue to offend? Absolutely. But there are many who, if given a chance to join an intervention program would be able to turn their lives around and contribute to society in a meaningful way while continuing to stay with their loved ones.

Humans come in all shapes and sizes. Some adapt to society’s rules and some have more challenges based on their upbringing and individual circumstances. Some are genetically wired with emotional challenges and many of them run afoul of the law. But for a young green card holder these bad decisions are catastrophic.

Current immigration law is written as if humans are not inherently flawed. Being an immigrant requires moral purity and if one should turn out to have any human failings or flaws, the consequence is that one is banished from the United States forever.
Under current law they are not entitled to any judicial discretion or legal services.

The Immigration Court is merely an administrative process to rubber stamp deportation papers. In many cases such young people leave their entire immediate families behind and are returned to a country they have never known. They will never be able to return to what they have known as home again and will live in exile for the rest of their lives.

Permanent residents are deported regardless of the age they arrived in the United States, the time they have spent here, the impact their removal will have on their spouses or children, their positive contributions to American society, or the hardship they would face in their country of origin. Many deported former green card holders were brought to the United States at a young age. They were raised in the U.S., educated, and had established families and businesses here.

Governments should not banish sinners to the wilderness for their sins without the right to ask for mercy. One recently deported young man who spent most of his life in the US and was banished home, leaving his family behind, could only express his wrenching agony through the words of Miranda Lambert from the song The House That Built Me.


I know they say you can’t go home again
I just had to come back one last time
Ma’am, I know you don’t know me from Adam
But these hand prints on the front steps are mine

Up those stairs in that little back bedroom
Is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar
And I bet you didn’t know under that live oak
My favorite dog is buried in the yard

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself

If I could just come in, I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me

Mama cut out pictures of houses for years
From “Better Homes and Garden” magazine
Plans were drawn and concrete poured
And nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama’s dream

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself

If I could just come in, I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me

You leave home, you move on
And you do the best you can
I got lost in this whole world
And forgot who I am

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself

If I could walk around, I swear I’ll leave
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.