Deported Marine veteran returns to US after 15 years

SAN DIEGO -- A U.S. Marine Corps veteran deported to Mexico in 2002 after being convicted of animal cruelty returned to this country Thursday.

Marco Chavez, born in Mexico and brought to California as an infant, was deported four years after a 1998 conviction for animal cruelty, for which he spent 10 months behind bars. He had served four years in the Marines.

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year pardoned the 45-year-old Chavez and two other deported veterans, according to the San Diego-based Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported Coalition, which assisted them in regaining their U.S. permanent residency status.

"They can use me as an example, so it could open the door for other veterans to come back," Chavez told reporters near the San Ysidro Port of Entry. "Hopefully it works, hopefully we bring them all home."

Chavez's green card status was restored in court earlier this month, said Nathan Fletcher, a county supervisor candidate who chairs the coalition.

"For these veterans who served in the same conflicts and wore the same uniform and went through the same things, after they're held to account for their mistake, they're deported," Fletcher, himself a former Marine who served in Iraq, told 10News. "That's what I think is terribly unjust."

His family initially moved with him to Tijuana in an effort to stay together, and his wife, who did not speak Spanish, commuted daily to the U.S. for work. They later divorced and she and their three sons eventually moved to Iowa, according to reports.

Chavez said he missed the childhood of his three children and hasn't met his two grandchildren.

Chavez will move to Los Angeles to live with his parents to give him time to get settled.

The governor also pardoned ex-Marine Erasmo Apodaca, 47, and Army veteran Hector Barajas, 40.