We’re having a Cesar Chavez moment on how Colorado and the federal government are handling the cruel and illustrative dilemma of Rene Lima-Marin.
The 38-year-old armed-robbery convict has been at the mercy of bad luck, a broken criminal justice system, a broken immigration system and a lot of broken hearts.
Lima-Marin is the Aurora man who robbed two Blockbuster video stores 19 years ago. He and an accomplice pointed a rifle at the heads of employees, terrorizing them during the robberies. He was caught, convicted and sentenced in 2000 to 98 years in prison.
Then, the unexpected happened. He changed. After eight years in prison, he was released on parole. He got a job. He met a woman with a son. They married, had their own child and started a new life in a new direction. It’s the stuff that movies are made of.
But since then, this one-time criminal has been the victim of endless plot twists. About six years after he became everything America would hope a paroled convict would be, state officials told him in 2014 he was released by mistake. They put him back in prison, and his life and story have been a roller coaster since then.
Finally, again, years later, an Arapahoe County judge earlier this month ordered Lima-Marin released, saying how cruel the system had been to a man who had indeed committed a horrible crime, and who indeed had paid a great price for that choice, and who had turned himself around.
The order for release came after an overwhelming, bi-partisan show at the state Legislature, where both the state House and Senate demanded Lima-Marin’s release from this mess.
Finally, after all these years, nearly free, Lima-Marin was tripped up once again by the system. This time, it was federal immigration police. It looks probable that Lima-Marin will be deported to Cuba, where he was born. He was part of the infamous Mariel boat-lift episode back in 1980, brought to Florida by his father as a toddler. But having been convicted in 2000, the system has been ready to eject him.
In yet another twist, Gov. John Hickenlooper injected himself in the plot last weekend by hastily pardoning Lima-Marin, instead of ordering clemency, as was the plan.
And all hell broke loose.
Hickenlooper immediately drew striking jeers and cheers from all over the political spectrum. Loudest to complain was Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, whose office has handled parts of the case, and who is a leading Republican candidate for governor next year.
Brauchler said the unexpected move was unfair and unjust, because it didn’t follow rules and protocols. He was unable to work with past victims on a possible argument against such a move.
And federal immigration officials say it’s just tough luck for Lima-Marin. Judgments have been made and rules are rules.
And while Lima-Marin will at least soon be a free man, he’ll be free in a communist country he knows nothing about and has absolutely no connection to.
Lima-Marin isn’t the problem, the system is.
Our criminal justice system is a convoluted, overpriced uncontrolled machine driven by politics, not mission. That Lima-Marin was sentenced to life for two armed robberies exemplifies how ludicrous the system has become. The game is played by running up sentences to satisfy crime-and-punishment politicians, pandering to fearful and naive voters. We warehouse herds of mentally ill drug-addicts and drop-outs, pretending we’re helping them and ourselves.
Our immigration system is just as corrupt and unjust. America has absorbed generations of Cubans with almost no questions asked, not because we cared deeply for Cubans, but because we’ve cared deeply about our hatred for its political leaders. So this Cuban, Lima-Marin, brought here probably before he could even talk, is the only Cuban we’re going to ship back? Now?
Lima-Marin was tripped up by a system that rewards U.S. businesses for illegally hiring illegal immigrants, while at the same time pretending to be aghast at such contrivances. The reason the Republican congress hasn’t rounded up and booted illegal immigrants before now is not because of human rights appeals. It’s because of big-business groups that know their profits would evaporate without cheap illegal immigrant labor.
And now, Colorado politicians are trying to capitalize on Lima-Marin’s sordid tragedy.
“The hasty decision to ignore state law was made seemingly to skirt federal law, and that is not an appropriate use of the governor’s pardon power,” Brauchler said in a statement Friday.
Seriously? It was absolutely meant to “skirt” federal law, creating justice where the “law” had failed to provide it. The move to get Lima-Marin out of jail, and to keep him from being wrongly deported is about as just and prudent a cause as there could be in this matter.
This newspaper and others never stop running stories about all parts of the government and both sides of the political aisle stepping all over the law. But Brauchler’s claim, which reeks of grandstanding, is dead wrong. Colorado governor’s power to pardon and set aside punishment and convictions is powerful and nearly absolute. It was created for just such events, when the state needs to show mercy, and common sense.
Time after time, the Lima-Marin case has given Colorado and the country opportunities to shine. We’ve failed and triumphed in this man’s life, which is so very much the same as the lives of millions like him across America.
Chavez — who so diligently tried to help America understand the consequences of a corrupt and broken system on an America mostly invisible to the rest of us — gave us the problem and the solution.
“History will judge societies and governments — and their institutions — not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless,” Chavez said.
In the case of Lima-Marin, it appears we are guilty as charged.
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