TIJUANA, Mexico (KGTV) - An honorably discharged Marine who was deported to Mexico for 15 years is finally allowed to come home to the U.S.
Marco Chavez came to the U.S. as an infant.
"I grew up in Southgate; went to San Gabriel Elementary, Southgate Junior High, Southgate High School, graduated then joined the Marine Corps," he said.
Chavez enlisted in 1991, served four years and was honorably discharged. A condition of his enlistment was that he would become a U.S. citizen, but that never happened.
Fifteen years ago, Chavez was found guilty of animal cruelty and spent time in prison. After his release, he was deported to Mexico because he still had a green card.
Chavez did not speak Spanish, telling 10News via FaceTime that he "had to learn it; [I] had to learn what everybody spoke because I only knew basic Spanish."
California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned Chavez in April, and a federal judge ruled that he is no longer deported.
Upon hearing the news, Chavez said he was "surprised and anxious and happy all at once."
San Diego politician Nathan Fletcher said of Chavez's case: "As a combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I can tell you we wouldn't rest until they came home and I don't view this any different … They were promised citizenship as a condition of their enlistment and their service, but the Department of Defense dropped the ball and didn't process their paperwork as it should have."
Fletcher, chair of the group Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported, said he knows of 300 more U.S. veterans currently deported.
Chavez said, "If they were in my situation, I would feel pretty bad because it was a hard time."
Chavez, who is now 45, will be home for Christmas with the best gift ever: "To start my life again."
Gov. Brown also pardoned two other deported service members, and federal judges will still need to review their cases.