Immigrant rights activist is released from custody

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2011 - 9:43 PM

Mariano Espinoza still faces deportation, but he is out of jail on "supervised release."

Mariano Perez Espinoza

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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A high-profile immigrant rights activist who is facing deportation is out of jail.

Mariano Espinoza, executive director of the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network, was released Friday from the Ramsey County jail in St. Paul.

"He is currently out on a supervised release," said Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, in a written statement.

For nearly a month, Espinoza has been in jail awaiting deportation for allegedly being in the country illegally after a previous deportation to his native Mexico.

He could not be reached for comment Monday.

John Keller, an attorney who represents Espinoza, would not say where he is, nor would he comment on his release, except to say: "We are hoping for our chance in court."

At issue is whether Espinoza should be granted a hearing to argue that he should not have been deported the first time.

Meanwhile, the immigrant rights group he has led in such a visible way must decide how to continue in his absence.

"At this point, he remains the executive director," said Jorge Saavedra, a Minneapolis attorney and spokesman for the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network.

"The board has made some contingency plans in terms of redistributing his duties, but ... has not yet made a decision about his employment status. They're in that wait-and-see mode."

A frequent speaker at rallies and meetings, Espinoza was also featured in a 2004 Star Tribune article about his transformation from immigrant to community organizer.

Espinoza's supporters were not expecting the phone calls on Friday announcing his release.

"His release came as a huge surprise to everyone," Saavedra said. "People were incredulous that he was calling saying, 'Hey, pick me up.'"

Sources say that Espinoza's latest troubles with immigration authorities stem from a dispute over a rental car at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last July.

According to an airport police report, he rented a car and did not return it. Police found the car and impounded it. They contacted Espinoza and he did not respond to police inquiries.

A warrant was issued, Espinoza was located and he was booked in the Hennepin County jail Feb. 14 on the car rental matter. His immigration status was later discovered by ICE officials who regularly check jail records in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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