SAN DIEGO (CN) – A deported U.S. Marine veteran returned to the U.S. Thursday after 15 years in Mexico thanks to an official pardon by Gov. Jerry Brown, prompting the reinstatement of the man’s green card.
Marco Chavez, 47, is the first deported veteran to regain permanent residency status after receiving a governor’s pardon. Activists and organizers with Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported hope his case can be emulated across the country to bring home the 323 deported veterans currently living in 42 countries.
Chavez crossed the pedestrian entrance at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego Thursday and was greeted by supporters holding American flags and signs reading, “Welcome Home” and “Support, Not Deport.” Chavez immediately hugged and thanked former state assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, also a veteran, who is putting pressure on Congress to reinstate residency status for all deported veterans.
“We’re here today because we believe those that took an oath and were willing to give their life for our country with the promise of citizenship deserve to have that promise fulfilled,” Fletcher said.
“Fifteen years after being deported, a man who came to this country as a child, who loved this country, who committed to this country, a man who served honorably in the United States Marine Corps, is finally home.”
Chavez told reporters he wants to find a job immediately and move closer to his son.
“I’m very excited, I’m in disbelief. I didn’t believe it until now,” Chavez said, holding up his permanent residency paperwork.
“It’s good they can use me as an example to open the door for other veterans to come back,” he added.
Chavez, who was deported to Mexico in 2002 after being convicted of a felony for animal abuse, was brought to California as an infant. As an adult, he served four years in the Marine Corps. When Chavez received an Easter pardon by Brown this year, his attorneys petitioned the San Diego Immigration Court to reopen his case and terminate his removal proceedings. The court found the pardon entitled him to return to the United States. Fletcher said without Brown’s pardon, Chavez would not have been able to come back to the U.S.
Fletcher added that advocates are also working to bring home other deported veterans including Hector Barajas, founder of the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Mexico. Brown also granted Barajas an Easter pardon, but his naturalization application has not been timely processed. According to his attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union and Latham & Watkins, the delay in processing his application violates the Administrative Procedures Act.
Heidi Martinez, a spokeswoman for Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported said in an interview the group is requesting Brown issue a Christmas pardon to another deported veteran. She explained that while all service members must be legal permanent residents to serve, recruiters mislead them by telling them they will automatically become citizens following their service. In actuality, she said the military does not help them file for naturalization even though most deported veterans believed they were citizens.