"One of the things I wanted to let my kids know is they did have a father and I did not plan to leave them," says Marco C. The former U.S. Marine was deported 15 years ago after what he claims was a wrongful animal cruelty conviction. He served 15 months in prison and was later deported.
He had been a lawful permanent resident, but that status can be stripped from green card holders for certain criminal convictions, including those involving violence.
He was recently pardoned by California governor Jerry Brown, who said Marco had "served our country, earned a pardon and deserves to come back home."
Marco's parents brought him to the U.S. as a baby. He had no real ties to Mexico, where he was born. He didn't even speak Spanish before he was deported.
When he was in the United States, he served in the Marine Corps for four years and was honorably discharged.
He got by in Mexico by living in the border city of Tijuana and working for a U.S. company in a call center where he could speak English. He also worked as a security guard there.
"Life is possible in Mexico, but it's not comfortable," he says.
When he was first deported, his wife and two sons came with him to Tijuana, but life was too hard for them. The schools weren't as good and jobs were hard to come by in the violence-ridden city. Ultimately, Marco and his wife divorced and she moved to Iowa to give their children a stable life. He last saw his sons during a visit in 2013.
Thanks to an immigration judge's ruling last month, Marco will be allowed to return to the U.S. and reclaim his green card. He plans to come back to the U.S. just before Christmas, live with his parents in Los Angeles while he handles the permanent residency paperwork, and then move to Iowa to rebuild a relationship with his kids.
It will be a good Christmas.
According to the Associated Press, Tijuana-based Deported Veterans Support House has documented more than 300 vets who have been deported. Over 60 are Mexican, but others have been deported to around 30 countries.
An attorney for the ACLU commented that this case will give hope to other American veterans who have been deported. The ACLU knows of at least two more vets who have been pardoned by Governor Brown and are working to regain legal status in the U.S. after being deported.