Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, today pardoned Rene Lima-Marin, the Cuban immigrant who was detained by immigration officials as he was released from prison Wednesday afternoon.
But his immigration fight is not over, according to an attorney working on his case.
“We still have critical and immediate work to do to prevent his deportation and reunite him with his family,” Denver immigration lawyer Hans Meyer said in a statement. “We hope that ICE will work with us to release Rene from custody and allow us to reopen his immigration case, restore his lawful permanent status, and reunite with his family. Thanks to this important step by the governor, we are one step closer to reuniting Rene with his wife and children.”
In issuing his pardon today, Hickenlooper said Colorado should be the worst place to commit a crime and the best place for a second chance. Granting Lima-Marin a pardon is “basic justice,” the governor said.
Lima-Marin’s family expected to celebrate his return to freedom earlier this week, but instead learned that he had been turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
His interception by ICE was just the latest in a strange and unexpected winding road of incarceration for the 37 year old. He was jailed after a string of video store robberies in the late 1990s and sentenced to nearly 100 years in prison.
In 2008 he was mistakenly released because of a paperwork glitch and spent six years out of jail where he rebuilt his life, found God, got married, fathered two children and found steady work. But his former prosecutor found out and had him sent back in 2014.
In the meantime, because Lima-Marin was a legal resident and not a U.S. citizen, he had had been checking in with ICE because he was flagged for deportation, said Celesté Martinez of Together for Colorado. Because he was Cuban, he was not a priority, Martinez said, stemming from policies between the U.S. and the communist country of Cuba regarding deportation.
On Tuesday, a judge ordered Lima-Marin’s release from prison. Holding him for the remainder of his near-century-long sentence would be “draconian” and would “deprive him of substantive due process, and would perpetrate a manifest injustice,” said Judge Carlos Samour Jr. of the 18th Judicial District in Arapahoe County.
But ICE agents were waiting for him after prison officials told the federal agency they were about to release an inmate flagged for deportation, according to the state Department of Corrections.
“This would be a travesty of justice if Mr. Lima was picked up and detained by ICE the day he’s supposed to be released and reunited with his family after a full and fair litigation and hearing by the Arapahoe district court judge,” attorney Meyer told The Colorado Independent earlier this week. “It’s concerning that ICE is going to swoop in at the 11th hour and frustrate the determination by our court system that keeping him in custody or in prison is unjust.”
In announcing his decision today, the governor said that when Judge Samour issued his decision, “he said the first duty of society is justice. This is an extraordinary case, not to be taken lightly. There were a number of factors surrounding the decision. In terms of rehabilitation, he demonstrated an ability to contribute to the fabric of his community and of Colorado. He is law-abiding and a productive member of his community.”
Hickenlooper also pointed to a near-unanimous support for clemency for Lima-Marin in a resolution the General Assembly passed last month, and noted the state’s judicial branch also supported a pardon.
“He demonstrated the success he had,” the governor said. “It’s one thing to re-imagine how you’ll come out of jail. It’s another to do it. We see too often how many people try to do that and aren’t successful. It would be a terrible symbol for those who are working to come out and imagine themselves in a more constructive role, prove themselves, then snatch that away. What does that say to everyone else trying to make that same incredible leap?”
The governor said he spoke to Lima-Marin’s wife Jasmine shortly before meeting with reporters, and said she was ecstatic, calling her “a remarkable woman in her own right.”
While the governor’s decision has drawn applause from Lima-Marin’s family and supporters — and the state’s immigrant rights community— it was quickly rebuked by a Republican candidate for governor, Arapahoe-area District Attorney George Brauchler.
— George Brauchler (@GeorgeBrauchler) May 19, 2017
Meyer said he recently spoke to Lima-Marin by phone and that he was stunned by the news.
Marianne Goodland contributed to this report. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Lima-Marin.