Although he was pardoned by Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper last week, Rene Lima-Marin is still not a free man. A man convicted of armed robbery won the favor of immigrant politicians and groups by changing his life around once he was released from prison in error. Hickenlooper called the case, an extraordinary one and one that deserved special circumstances.
Lima-Marin committed some very serious criminal offenses when he was younger, and the governor pardoned him because he believes that Lima-Marin has shown that he deserves a second chance. Hickenlooper maintains that Lima-Marin has already served his time and been punished adequately for his crimes; the prison system apparently did its job in rehabilitating him and returning him to prison would not show justice to the public or to Lima-Marin.
Even though the pardon has been made, Lima-Marin has not been released from prison. Because he is an immigrant, ICE agents — the Immigration and Customs Enforcement — quickly took him in their custody a couple of days following the pardon and stated that they have jurisdiction over him, regardless of the pardon.
Lima-Marin’s immigration lawyer is hoping to change the situation. Insisting that the fight is not over, attorney Hans Meyer believes that he can work to stop Lima-Marin’s deportation and get him reunited once again with his family. The hope is that ICE will work with Meyer to reach an agreement to reconsider his case and to restore the permanent status that he had. Instead of being deported, it is possible that he could end up with an order of supervision, which would require that he report to the ICE on a regular basis but could remain on American soil.
Lima-Marin is married and has two kids. He immigrated to the US as a one-year-old and was part of the Mariel boatlift. In 1998, he was convicted of armed robbery in two video stores. In 2008, he was released by mistake due to an error in his paperwork. The documents said that he was to serve the time concurrently, when he was actually supposed to serve it consecutively. He would not have been caught if he had not been rearrested in 2014 when authorities realized they had made a mistake.
In the six years that he was out of prison, he got his life together. He got a job, found a woman to settle down with, began a family, and saved enough money to buy his first home. He was one of the few criminal offenders released from prison who turned his life around and vowed to make something of himself. Even with a criminal record, he worked his way up the ladder and was a productive member of society. That is unusual in today’s penal society where recidivism is not an exception, but often the norm.
In a 165-page report decision that was issued last week, the judge who released him from prison was compelled to allow Lima-Marin to go free without serving out the rest of his sentence. The judge and Colorado immigration attorney argued that the ultimate goal of rehabilitating people is why the prison system exists. It was created so that a prisoner can be returned to society. What Lima-Marin proved was that he had been rehabilitated. If it were not discovered that a mistake had been made in his paperwork, he would still be living as an asset to the community and his family.
Although it was a serious crime, during his robbery spree no one was physically injured, and the sentencing was a bit harsh for such a young offender.
If there has ever been a case for redemption and a second chance, Mr. Lima-Marin is it. Given a second opportunity to make it right, he quickly went to work after his erroneous release to turn his life around, and he should be rewarded for it — not punished. Although being a convicted criminal offender means that he should legally be deported, in this instance that doesn’t seem like an equitable way to deal with a success story.
Although he was pardoned by the governor, the issue of whether Lima-Marin can stay in America and reunite with his family rests in ICE’s hands. However, if they want to teach those who are in the penal system a lesson, punishing someone who has turned their life around and done the right thing is probably not the way to do it.