Colorado’s leading gubernatorial candidates mostly reacted along party lines Friday to word that Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, had pardoned Rene Lima-Marin in hopes of heading off plans by immigration officials to deport the Aurora man to Cuba.
Democrats Mike Johnston and Cary Kennedy cheered the move, both citing what they termed the governor’s “humanity,” and Noel Ginsburg said that lawmakers and the governor had dispensed justice in Lima-Marin’s case.
Across the aisle, Republicans George Brauchler and Doug Robinson panned Hickenlooper’s pardon as an attempt to circumvent federal immigration law.
Their fellow GOP candidate Victor Mitchell, however, didn’t weigh in on the wisdom of the pardon but argued that the federal government should think long and hard before deporting Lima-Marin back to “a totalitarian regime.”
Lima-Marin, brought to the United States from Cuba as an infant by his refugee parents, was convicted in 2000 for a series of robberies and sentenced to 98 years in prison but then was mistakenly released in 2008. Once authorities realized their error nearly six years later, he was rearrested and sent back to prison.
Lawmakers in April unanimously approved a resolution asking Hickenlooper to grant Lima-Marin clemency. But three days ago, while the governor was considering the request, an Arapahoe County judge ordered Lima-Marin freed, calling his continued imprisonment “a manifest injustice.”
That’s when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took him into custody, waving a deportation order that had been issued by a federal immigration judge in 2000 because of Lima-Marin’s felony convictions, long before the Obama administration established diplomatic relations with Cuba at the beginning of this year.
In response to the threatened deportation, state Reps. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, and Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, wrote the governor on Thursday asking him to pardon Lima-Marin, arguing that lifting his criminal record would give ICE no reason to hold him.
Citing Lima-Marin’s “potential to live as a law-abiding, productive member of our community,” Hickenlooper pardoned him on Friday.
“Given the extraordinary circumstances of this case and Mr. Lima-Marin’s demonstrated ability to live successfully in the community, I agree that it would be unjust for Mr. Lima-Marin to suffer further consequences for his convictions,” the governor said, adding that he hoped the pardon would demonstrate the state’s faith in Lima-Marin.
Brauchler, the Republican district attorney whose predecessor sent Lima-Marin to prison, blasted Hickenlooper’s move in a series of tweets on Friday afternoon.
“I would not issue a pardon intended solely to defeat Federal immigration law,” tweeted the prosecutor, who is also a colonel in the Colorado National Guard.
“A three-time robber gets to skip to the front of a long line of more deserving folks for a photo-op,” Brauchler added.
Brauchler also tore into the incumbent for picking Lima-Marin as the first recipient of a Hickenlooper pardon.
“A convicted 3 time robber and kidnapper gets @GovofCO 1st pardon in 6+ years?” he tweeted. “Victims consulted? Pardon was to defeat #immigration law.”
Hickenlooper’s pardon of Lima-Marin was only the second time he’s exercised the constitutional power a governor has to grant reprieves, clemency and pardons in the more than six years he’s been in office. (The other time was in 2013 when he issued a temporary reprieve staying the scheduled execution of death row inmate Nathan Dunlap. Brauchler’s scathing criticism of that decision thrust him into the spotlight as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2014, although he passed on a run then.)
“Did @GovofCO speak with the victims of #Lina-Marin’s 3 robberies before granting his first pardon?” Brauchler asked in one tweet. (A spokeswoman for Hickenlooper said the governor didn’t speak with the victims directly but said Brauchler’s office provided input as part of the clemency process, which had been under way for some time.)
Investment banker Doug Robinson also criticized Hickenlooper for attempting to use his pardon to thwart immigration authorities.
“I believe in compassion, but I also respect the rule of law on which our society is founded,” Robinson told The Statesman in a statement. “Issuing an executive pardon solely in an attempt to end-run our immigration laws shows a lack of respect and compassion for those who have followed the law their whole lives.”
Mitchell, a businessman and former state representative, broke ranks with his fellow Republicans by aiming his criticism at the possibility ICE could turn Lima-Marin over to the Cubans.
“The U.S. government should be very careful and well-informed about Lima-Marin’s alleged crimes before we ever think about sending anyone back to a totalitarian regime, like the government that still runs Cuba,” Mitchell said in a statement. “I couldn’t do that. Whatever Cuba tells us cannot be trusted completely.”
The Democrats hoping to occupy the governor’s office after next year’s election — Hickenlooper faces term limits — supported the pardon. (U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, also a candidate, was aboard a flight to Colorado from Washington, D.C., and couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.)
“On top of this week’s court decision, the governor’s humanitarian gesture today has now pointed the way for ICE to follow its own stated priorities while showing Rene and his family compassion in this case. Let him come home,” Johnston, a former state senator, told The Colorado Statesman.
Kennedy, a former state treasurer and deputy mayor of Denver, said in a statement that she applauded “the governor’s humanity.”
“Rene Lima-Marin is an example of how we want people to rebuild their lives,” she said. “No one is well-served by policies that tear families apart.”
Ginsburg, a businessman and philanthropist, praised both the Legislature and the governor for their attempts to reward Lima-Marin for his rehabilitation.
“Rene Lima-Marin has lived in the United States for 36 of his 38 years, coming here from Cuba as a toddler,” Ginsburg said. “He has served his sentence and has proven he can and will live a productive life within our community. The bipartisan resolution in the state legislature that called for clemency, along with the governor’s pardon, offers Mr. Lima-Marin justice.”