Rene Lima-Marin in limbo after ‘release’ from prison; courts, ICE sort out possible deportation


AURORA | After a flurry of developments in his controversial case — including conflicting orders from a judge, the governor and federal immigration police — Rene Lima-Marin appears headed for limbo.

A week after a judge and the governor ordered him released, Lima-Marin is being held in an immigration detention facility on a detainer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who say he must be deported to his native Cuba.

But exactly when Lima-Marin could be sent packing or potentially released from custody is unclear.

Julie Gonzales, policy director for the Meyer Law Office, the high-profile Denver immigration law firm that has taken on Lima-Marin’s case, said lawyers there are in the process of drafting a motion asking a federal immigration judge to re-open the case.

But that process, she said, could take several months.

Meanwhile, federal immigration authorities appear poised to deport Lima-Marin, though they won’t say when that could happen.

“(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,” ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said in a statement.

Rusnok said that for security reasons, ICE doesn’t release deportation dates.

Last week’s pardon from Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, was the latest twist in the 19-year-saga of the 38-year-old convicted armed robber. He came to the U.S. as a toddler as part of the 1980 Mariel boat lift from Cuba and had legal residency until it was revoked following his 2000 criminal conviction. Lima-Marin was sentenced to 98 years in prison for the robbery. But he was mistakenly paroled from Colorado state prison in 2008.

Lima-Marin married, had a child and got a steady job installing glass before state authorities realized their mistake in 2014 and sent him back for the remainder of his 98-year prison sentence.

A Colorado judge last week ordered Lima-Marin released from state prison, saying it would be “draconian” to keep him incarcerated. But before he could return to his family, immigration authorities picked him up, citing a still-active deportation order from 2000. His lawyers said a pardon was his only chance to stave off deportation.

Lima-Marin’s case has become a bipartisan cause célèbre in Colorado, as 98 members of the state Assembly, Democrats and Republicans, called on Hickenlooper to grant him clemency. Though the legal roots of Lima-Marin’s deportation order stretch back to actions of Barack Obama’s administration, his detention comes as President Donald Trump’s administration has moved aggressively to speed up deportations, sometimes sparking clashes with local officials.

“This was a question of justice,” Hickenlooper told an afternoon news conference. “This was a pretty clear example of someone who’s done all the work necessary to earn a second chance.”

It’s unclear whether the governor’s action will be enough to stop Lima-Marin’s deportation.

“I’m not a lawyer,” Hickenlooper said when asked whether the pardon would suffice.

District Attorney George Brauchler, whose office prosecuted Lima-Marin, said Hickenlooper did not give prosecutors time to review the pardon application as required by state law.

“The hasty decision to ignore state law was made seemingly to skirt federal law, and that is not an appropriate use of the governor’s pardon power,” said Brauchler, who announced earlier this year his intention to run for governor.

Hans Meyer, Lima-Marin’s lawyer, said he’d file motions to vacate the deportation order.

“We’re incredibly grateful to the governor for a just and fair solution,” he said. “This is a tremendous first step.”

But Jason Kasperek, the assistant manager at a Blockbuster video store that Lima-Marin and an accomplice robbed in 1998, said Lima-Marin should be back in prison.

“I just think that it’s scandalous how he used the system,” Kasperek said of Lima-Marin, recalling how the robbers held a rifle to his head as they forced him to open the store safe. “I think it’s completely ridiculous. It’s unjust for all victims who have been involved in it.”

The Blockbuster was one of two that Lima-Marin and his accomplice Michael Clifton robbed. They were convicted on multiple robbery, kidnapping and burglary counts. Clifton is still in prison, serving his 98-year sentence.

This is not Lima-Marin’s first time in immigration detention. Though Trump has ordered immigration authorities to step up their enforcement of deportation orders, Lima-Marin’s legal jeopardy actually stems from changes made by Obama.

After his 2008 parole, immigration authorities held Lima-Marin for 180 days. But at the time, Cuba would not accept any additional people who had arrived on the Mariel boat lift as deportees. As a result, Lima-Marin was released. He continued to check in with immigration authorities regularly, said his wife, Jasmine.

But when Obama in January ended the “wet foot-dry foot” policy that had protected Cuban immigrants who arrived from the island, it opened the door for additional Cubans from the Mariel boat lift to be deported.