UPDATE: District Attorney George Brauchler has challenged the legality of the pardon.
UPDATE: Gov. John Hickenlooper has pardoned Rene Lima-Marin.
“We were convinced this was the right thing to do,” Hickenlooper said. “It was a question of justice.”
He said he felt like punishing Lima-Marin now would send a bad message to other people trying to turn their lives around.
“It’s one thing to imagine how you’ll be when you emerge from jail,” he said. “It’s another to actually come out and do it, and he did it. We see how many people try to do it and are not successful. It would be a terrible symbol to all the people who are about to come out and working to imagine themselves in a more constructive role in the community and desire to improve themselves. What does it say if we snatch that away?”
“In this case, basic justice is pretty clear,” he said.
When asked if he would take further action on the case, Hickenlooper said, “This is the limit of my authority.”
Immigration attorney Hans Meyer, who is representing Lima-Marin, released a statement shortly after the announcement saying, in part, “I just got off the phone with Rene, and he is stunned.”
Meyer reiterated that the pardon is only one step for Lima-Marin:
“Rene’s immigration fight is still not over. We still have critical and immediate work to do to prevent his deportation and reunite him with his family. 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.”
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who is running for governor, questioned the legality of the pardon and said Hickenlooper didn’t give the victims or his office time to weigh in.
EARLIER: If Gov. John Hickenlooper does not sign a pardon for Rene Lima-Marin, it will be nearly impossible to fight his deportation to Cuba, immigration attorney Hans Meyer said.
Sentenced to 98 years in prison in 2000 for a pair of armed robberies, Lima-Marin was released in 2008 due to a paperwork error. He rebuilt a life with a job as a glazier, a wife, Jasmine, and two young boys. He was sent back to prison in 2014 when the error was discovered. His case became a study in redemption, and Colorado legislators near unanimously backed a resolution asking the governor for clemency. This week, he was ordered released, but immigration authorities were waiting.
Now he’s in immigration detention, and according to Meyer, there are high-level discussions happening with the Cuban government to determine if they will accept him.
“We are truly at the 11th hour in his case,” said Meyer, who announced Friday he was taking the case on a pro bono basis.
Meyer is one of the more outspoken immigration attorneys in town. He represents Jeanette Vizguerra, whose case has garnered national attention, and he represents Claudia Valdez, the women whose detention after she reported domestic violence led Colorado sheriffs to end the practice of immigrant detainers.
Lima-Marin was born in Cuba and came to the United States with his family when he was 2 as part of the Mariel boat lift. He became a legal permanent resident of the U.S. in 1986, but he never applied for citizenship. His green card was stripped from him in 2000, and he was ordered removed due to his convictions for robbery, kidnapping and burglary. As we reported previously, any past criminal conviction can be cause for deportation, and these cases can come back to haunt people years later.
However, when Lima-Marin was released in 2008, the U.S. did not have normal relations or any repatriation agreement with Cuba. So Lima-Marin complied with regular check-ins with ICE, along with check-ins with his parole officer. Part of the normalization of relations with Cuba is the possibility of deporting Cuban nationals who have committed crimes.
Colorado legislators have asked Hickenlooper to give Lima-Marin a pardon to remove his past crimes from his record in hopes of removing the legal justification for his removal. Meyer said that because Lima-Marin’s crimes were fairly serious and because the removal order has been in place since 2000, it will be nearly impossible to stop the deportation without a pardon. The removal order is considered final, and Lima-Marin has no right to a hearing.
If Hickenlooper were to grant the pardon, Lima-Marin would still have a long fight in front of him, Meyer said, but he would get a chance to make his case for staying in the only country he knows.
“We understand that pardons are extraordinary remedies, but this is an extraordinary case,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he does not know exactly how long Lima-Marin has and is not privy to negotiations between Washington and Cuba, but the case is moving “quickly.”
Meyer said ICE’s decision to detain Lima-Marin after a three-year process through the state courts and the legislature shows a disregard for local laws.
“We at the state level have already made a decision about the constitutionality of his re-incarceration, his liberty, and we need to have the governor take action to give meaning to those state court decisions,” he said.
Jasmine Lima-Marin, Rene’s wife, said the hardest part of this process has been explaining to their sons that their father would not be coming home after all.
“I’m angry,” she said. “And I have not been angry throughout this whole situation. I’m angry not just for our family, but for everyone going through this.”
The Lima-Marins are deeply religious, and Jasmine Lima-Marin said her faith is holding her up.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, and that God doesn’t make mistakes,” she said. “There is possibly a bigger picture that could have effects for other people. I know we are not the only ones.”
If Rene Lima-Marin is deported, Jasmine Lima-Marin said she would consider moving her family to Cuba. She doesn’t know what barriers she would have to overcome to do that, but she loves her husband and wants to live her life with him.
“It’s on my mind,” she said.
At the conclusion of a press conference, Jasmine Lima-Marin huddled with supporters from Together Colorado, a faith-based organization that works on social justice issues. They prayed that God would open the governor’s heart and lead him to do this one small act, just pick up the pen and sign the pardon. And they prayed to open the hearts of officials in Washington and Cuba to give Rene Lima-Marin a reprieve and allow him to resume life with his family.
“Turn their hearts, Father God,” Jasmine Lima-Marin prayed. “Let them feel what we are feeling.”
This story has been updated throughout to reflect new developments.