Reached by telephone in his lawyer’s car, Walters told The Associated Press he was relieved to be freed and intended to head home to his wife and children in New York.

“I am fine,” Walters said. “It feels good, fresh air, a new beginning.”

Walters’ release was cleared a week ago by federal Judge Kimba Wood, who ruled the Board of Immigration Appeals should never have reversed its earlier decision that Walters could stay in the United States despite a criminal conviction.

The rapper was detained in June 2002 as he returned to Florida after a weeklong gig aboard a cruise ship. Only after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent crackdown on aliens was Walters detained, his publicist, Bill Adler, has said.

As the months have passed with 38-year-old Walters in a federal detention facility in Bradenton, supporters including comedian Chris Rock, actor Will Smith and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have become more outspoken.

Adler has also said Walters will return to the Bronx, where he owns a pair of apartment buildings and lives with his wife and two children, to continue a career that includes his solo platinum album, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.