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Immigration violation overturned by federal appeals court

Walter Vasquez Macias spent nearly a decade living illegally in the United States.

But when it mattered most, he was in the right spot – on the Canadian side of the Rainbow Bridge. And that’s what will ultimately get the Honduras native out of prison.

A federal appeals court recently paved the way for Vasquez’s release – he still faces deportation – by overturning his conviction for being “found” illegally in the United States.

“That’s our hope,” Jayme Feldman, one of the federal public defenders in Buffalo representing Vasquez, said of his pending release.

Vasquez has been in a Texas prison since a federal court jury here found him guilty and he was sentenced to four years in prison.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, however, decided Vasquez had neither a “physical nor a legal presence in this country” when he was detained in January of 2012.

“At what point was he found is the legal question,” said Tracy Hayes, the other federal public defender handling his appeal.

Vasquez acknowledges he was in the United States illegally but says he was entering Canada in order to start a new life.

He also claims he was forcibly returned to the United States by Canadian authorities.

“He was leaving the country with no plans to come back,” Hayes said. “We thought all along that he was not found here.”

The appeals court described Vasquez as having a “checkered immigration history in the United States,” a reference to his arrest in the late 1990s for selling drugs to two undercover agents and his subsequent deportation in 2000.

The court, however, found his previous conviction irrelevant to his current prosecution even though he admits re-entering the United States illegally a year after his deportation.

“The law does not bend to meet the facts of each case,” the court said in its decision. “Although Vasquez undeniably broke the laws of the United States at some point after his 2000 deportation, he is not guilty of the crime of which he was convicted.”

The court noted the “seeming oddity” of reversing Vasquez’s criminal conviction but noted that he still faces punishment – deportation back to Honduras.

His release is pending a possible appeal by prosecutors.