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Immigration

Cuban immigrant detained by ICE in "remarkable" case, 37 years after arriving in U.S.

As a teen, René Lima Marín was sentenced to 98 years in jail for armed robbery in 1998. He was mistakenly released almost 90 years early. Despite a pardon, he faces deportation.
19 May 2017 – 7:22 PM EDT

Jasmine Lima Marín was preparing to welcome her husband home on Wednesday after a long legal battle to get him out of jail, but he never made it to the party.

Instead, he was detained by immigration agents and could now face deportation back to Cuba - the country he left in 1980 as a baby.

The twists and turns in his case are bizarre and unusual, a case of as yet unfulfilled redemption.

A troubled teen, René Lima Marín was arrested for kidnapping and armed robbery aged 19 and sentenced to 98 years in jail on several charges.

He was released by mistake 88 years early in 2008, built a career and made a family. But six years later a prosecutor spotted the mistake and he was re-arrested.

A judge on Tuesday ordered his release this week after legislators recommended the Colorado governor grant him clemency.

Judge Carlos Samour Jr. ruled that the reinstatement of Lima Marín's sentence was "utterly unjust," arguing that he had become "an asset to society."

He added: "The government - not Lima-Marin, his family, the community, and society - should bear the brunt of the consequences of its conscience-shocking deliberate indifference."

However, upon his release he was placed in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Denver, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.


Lima Marín, 38, arrived in the United States with his parents when he was just one year old during the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Although he obtained legal residence, unlike his parents he never became a U.S. citizen, his father, Eli Borges, told The Denver Post.

After his first release in 2008 Lima Marín could not be deported as the U.S. and Cuba did not have diplomatic relations. But that changed in 2015 after President Barack Obama initaited a policy of renewed enegagement with the communist-run island.

In January, shortly before leaving office, President Barack Obama ended a long-standing policy of accepting so-called "dry foot" Cubans who illegally entered the United States, opening the door for renewed deportations.

Also this year, the new Trump administration has tightened immigration rules and ICE is under instructions to deport all undocumented immigrants "without exception."

The latest figures released this week show that immigrant arrests are up 38 percent since Trump took office, compared to the same period in 2016, though deportations have yet to pick up.


Clerical error, pardon

Lima Marín's case dates back to 1998 when he took part in an armed robbery of two video clubs along with an accomplice who is still in jail.

Both men were sentenced in 2000 to 98 years in prison for aggravated robbery.

But a decade later a clerical error led to his release on probation when officials mistakenly thought his sentences were due to run concurrently and not consecutively.

After his probation ended in 2013, the case was closed. His lawyer says he left jail a rehabilitated person and has led an unblemished life since his release.

He got a job as a window installer, married his wife Jasmine and has a stepchild, Justus, 10, and a 7-year-old son, Jojo.

On Friday Governor John Hickenlooper issued a pardon.

“Law-abiding, very successful, constructive member of society,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s a remarkable story.”

Jason Kasperek, who worked at one of the video stores Lima-Marin robbed, told The Denver Post he still has nightmares about the incident. Kasperek said the governor’s pardon is “a bunch of crap.”

It remains unclear if the pardon will be enough to return Lima Marín to his family.

"Lima Marín 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 said in a statement on Friday.

Despite a pardon the government could still remove him if it considers he was in the country illegally, said Miami immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen, who is Cuban-American, adding that he is not familiar with the details of Lima Marín's case.

"The big issue is will Cuba take him back?" he added. "Even though Cuba has now agreed to take back deportees, it reserves the right to decide whom it takes back."

If Cuba does not accept his deportation, the government will have to release Lima Marín after 90 days, he said.

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