Marco Coello, the Venezuelan activist who was recently arrested in Miami while awaiting an asylum hearing, was released from custody Thursday amid mounting political pressure.
Coello, 22, had applied for asylum in South Florida after he was detained and allegedly tortured in Venezuela in the wake of national demonstrations in 2014. But as he appeared at a U.S. immigration office in Miami Wednesday, awaiting a routine asylum hearing, he was pulled aside and told he was being detained for overstaying his visa.
The case drew the attention of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who spoke to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus about the case Wednesday night, according to Rubio’s press secretary, Matt Wolking. While the White House was unaware of the issue, it was responsive and helpful in resolving the case, he said.
Coello was released from the Krome Detention Center in Miami shortly after 12:30 p.m.
“Thank God I’m out,” Coello told Univision. “I was in a cell, first with others and then alone. They did several medical examinations, psychological tests and an interrogation.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Spokesman Nestor Yglesias said Coello was singled out because he has a misdemeanor criminal conviction and had stayed in the U.S. longer than his visa allowed.
“As a result, he violated the terms of his non-immigrant status in the United States,” Ygelsias said in a statement. “ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Human rights groups and legal experts said the case raised alarm bells.
Coello’s lawyer, Elizabeth Blandon, said that in her two decades of immigration law she’d never heard of an asylum seeker being detained without an interview.
“Obviously we’re very happy that he has been freed,” Blandon told el Nuevo Herald. “But his release, after his one-day detention, only highlights the fact that he’d been detained without cause.”
Coello has been in the United States since 2015, after he was detained in Venezuela for allegedly conspiring with jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López.
According to Venezuelan media, Coello was tortured by officials who accused him and López of arson and inciting the public. López has been in Venezuela’s Ramo Verde prison since 2014.
In the past, Coello told CNN that officials had held a gun to his head and forced him to sign a confession.