DENVER (CBS4) – A group that is fighting Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detainment of a former Colorado inmate is urging Gov. John Hickenlooper to issue a pardon.
“We are grateful that Gov. Hickenlooper is considering a pardon for Rene,” said Celeste Martinez from the group Together Colorado, referring to Rene Lima-Marin. “We ask and call upon the community to raise our voice and support Rene’s family once again so they can be reunited and live in peace once and for all.”
“He has become a law-abiding productive member of his community,” Hickenlooper said. “I hope he doesn’t get deported.”
Lima-Marin came to the U.S. from Cuba when he was 1 year old. He never applied for citizenship but U.S. relations with Cuba allowed him to stay. That continued until Lima-Marin was convicted of armed robbery and flagged for deportation in 2000.
Lima-Marin was sentenced to 98 years in prison for the crime but he was released early by mistake and spent six years living in Aurora and starting a family before he was once again sent back to prison to serve the rest of his sentence.
This spring the Colorado legislature sent a measure to the governor’s desk that would grant freedom to Lima-Marin. And just this week, three years after his re-incarceration, a Colorado judge ordered that he be released from prison. Before that release was completed, ICE agents intervened and took him into federal custody on a detainment hold.
“ICE has very clearly stated he is a priority,” said Hans Meyer, a Denver lawyer who has taken up Lima-Marin’s case. “They will slate him for deportation and they are in active negotiations in Washington D.C. with the Cuban embassy to repatriate him to Cuba.”
In a news conference on Friday where he was surrounded by supporters with “Free Rene” signs, Meyer acknowledged that a pardon is an uncommon step, but he called the case “extraordinary.”
“He’s been a gainful and productive member of our community for years,” Meyer said.
Martinez urged supporters of Lima-Marin to call Hickenlooper’s office and to leave comments on the State of Colorado’s website to make their voice heard. They said state Reps. Paul Rosenthal and Dave Williams sent a letter to the governor on Thursday requesting the pardon.
Meyer said a pardon from Hickenlooper is the “only path to justice” in what could be a fairly complicated legal battle to prevent a “lifetime deportation and separation from his family.”
Jasmine Lima-Marin, his wife, said at the news conference that she and their sons are heartbroken that their husband and father wasn’t able to come home this week.
“For some reason, they want to keep our family apart,” Jasmine, said.
“For something like this to take place, I just feel like we’re starting all over again,” she said.
Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, who’s office prosecuted Lima-Marin, says the governor’s pardon may be breaking state law.
“The law states ‘It shall first be submitted to the present district attorney in the district in which the applicant was convicted;’ that’s me, and I’ve never received an application for a pardon.”
Brauchler believes the decision could create a slippery slope.
“Did the governor reach out to the victims to get their input?” Brauchler asked. “I think the short answer is that the governor is trying to defeat federal law.”
While Lima-Marin’s journey is far from over, his family is staying strong.
“We’re still keeping full faith in God and praying that everything works out, and that he will come home to us, and hopefully very soon,” his wife Jasmine said.
Lima-Marin remains in ICE custody pending his removal to Cuba since he is on the Cuban Repatriation List, and he currently has final orders of removal from a federal immigration judge.