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ICE releases young Venezuelan asylum seeker Marco Coello

The young man who was allegedly tortured in Venezuela spoke with Univision News as he left immigration detention, after a day after his arrest. "Thank God I'm out."
27 Abr 2017 – 02:03 PM EDT
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U.S. immigration officials released a young Venezuelan immigrant, Marco Coello, on Thursday, a day after he was arrested at an immigration hearing despite a pending petiton for political asylum.

"Marco is free, he is here with me," his mother, Dorys Morillo de Coello, told Univision by phone, speaking from the gates of the detention center where he was held.

"Thank God I'm out," Coello, 21, told Univision. "I was in a cell, first with others and then alone. They did several medical examinations, psychological tests and an interrogation," he said.

Coello was arrested while attending an appointment at the immigration office in downtown Miami on Wednesday where he believed he was due to see a judge who is handling the asylum case he filed in 2015.

He was transfered to the Krome Detention Center in south Miami where he was held overnight.

Local politicians, including Senator Marco Rubio, got involved late Wednesday and brought the case to the attention of the White House, sources told Univision.

Coello's case became emblematic of allegations of torture of detainees by Venezuelan police after he was arrested and jailed for several months in 2014 for protesting against the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said on Wednesday that Coello had two misdemeanor criminal convictions and a violation for overstaying his visa.

On Thursday ICE issued a corrected statement saying Coello had only one misdemeanor criminal conviction. The statement added: "As a result, he violated the terms of his nonimmigrant status in the United States."

However, his lawyer Elizabeth Blandon explained that Coello entered the United States as a tourist in September 2015 with a visa valid through March 2016. He filed his asylum petition on Sept 11, shortly after entering the country and well before his visa expired, Blandon said.

"From that date until today - according to the immigration policy - Marco has authorization to stay," she said.

Immigrants with one criminal misdemeanor conviction are not usually subject to detention, one legal expert told Univision.

"The arrest was ill-conceived," said Wilfredo Allen, a prominent Miami immigration attorney. "A misdemeanor does not require detention. Two misdemeanors, yes, but not one."

Coello was arrested by police in Venezuela Feb 12, 2014 and held in prison where he was allegedly tortured by agents seeking to get him to implicate opposition leader Leopoldo López in violence that took place during the demonstrations.

He alleged that he was beaten by plain clothes agents and told to sign a document that he was protesting in the streets on the orders of López, the country's most vocal opposition leader, who was later arrested and accused of fomenting violence.

López remains in jail.

Coello says that during his detention he had a gun pointed at his head, was given electric shocks and had a lighter held close after being soaked in gasoline.

He was released in July 2014 and fled to Miami Sept 3, 2015 shortly before his case was due to be decided in court, and his case remains open in Venezuela.

Officials in Venezuela have denied his allegations of torture.

His case has been highlighted by international groups along with five others arrested the same day as Coello accused of violent incidents, inclusing the burning of several official vehicles. A report by Human Rights Watch about the Feb 12, 2014 detentions found "a pattern of serious abuse" including torture and denial of due process.

"Coello said he had been running away from where violent confrontations had erupted between protesters and security forces when a teargas canister hit his leg. He fell to the street and was engulfed in teargas," according to the report.

"As he was struggling to breathe, a group of about eight men in plainclothes assaulted him, beating him as he lay on the ground. They then grabbed him and took him to the nearby CICPC [police] station, where three police officers took him to a bathroom, pointed a gun at his head, and doused his shirt and body with gasoline."

It went on: "They wrapped a thin mat around his body, tied it with tape, and approximately 10 officers kicked him and beat him with sticks, a golf club, and a fire extinguisher on his ribs and upper body. When they took off the mat, they gave him three electric shocks on his chest, he said. Throughout the whole time, the police officers told him he should confess he had burned official vehicles that day. Coello said he did not confess because he had not done it."

Additional reporting by David Adams

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