- Associated Press - Monday, March 26, 2018

AURORA, Colo. (AP) - A Cuban immigrant’s long quest for freedom appears over.

Rene Lima-Marin, who was targeted for deportation after being pardoned by Colorado’s governor for an armed robbery for which he spent two different stints in prison, is no longer behind bars.

A smiling Lima-Marin walked out of an immigration detention center in suburban Denver on Monday after winning his deportation case. His lawyer, wife, father and a niece and nephew were there to greet him.

“It’s hard to put into words really, but it’s wonderful,” he said of his release.

A judge in October ordered that deportation proceedings against Lima-Marin end and that he be released, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security appealed that decision.

A lawyer at the firm representing him, Leah Rosenberg, was notified Monday that the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals had denied the appeal. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said later Monday the agency was disappointed with the decision but would not pursue Lima-Marin “unless other future criminal convictions render him removable.”

Lima-Marin was convicted of armed robbery in 2000 and sentenced to 98 years in prison but mistakenly paroled in 2008 in prison. After his release, he married, started a family and a got a job but was returned to prison after authorities discovered their mistake six years later.

In May 2017, a judge ordered he be released from prison, saying it was draconian to keep him behind bars. Immigration authorities detained him instead, citing a deportation order tied to his conviction.

Days later, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, pardoned Lima-Marin in hopes of stalling his deportation. An immigration judge in Denver overturned the deportation order in July, but he remained in immigration detention while lawyers argued over his case.

Jason Kasperek, an assistant manager at a video store robbed by Lima-Marin and accomplice Michael Clifton in 1998, opposed the pardon, saying Lima-Marin had used the system in a “scandalous” way.

After his release Monday, Lima-Marin said he was “extremely remorseful” for the robbery.

“I’m not the same person I was before,” he said. “I wish I never would have done those things, and I’m sorry that they had to experience that. It’s a terrible thing. I wish I wasn’t as immature as I was back then.”

Clifton remains in prison. He told The Denver Post last year that he wishes Lima-Marin well but hopes his childhood friend’s case would lead officials to address his long sentence too.

Lima-Marin came to the U.S. as a child in the 1980 Mariel boat lift from Cuba. He had legal residency until it was revoked following his criminal conviction. Immigration authorities held him for 180 days after his 2008 parole, but Cuba at the time wasn’t accepting deportees who had arrived during the Mariel boatlift.

In January, then-President Barack Obama ended a “wet foot-dry foot” policy that protected Cuban immigrants who arrived on U.S. soil, opening a possible door for additional Cubans from the Mariel boat lift to be deported.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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