By Debbie Gregory.
Following his honorable discharge from the military, a former Marine was convicted of a crime and deported to Mexico.
At 19 years old, Marco Antonio Chavez enlisted in the Marine Corps and served for four years. The son of Mexican immigrants, he grew up in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant.
In 1998, Chavez was convicted of animal cruelty and served 10 months in prison. An immigration judge considered his conviction an aggravated felony, which led to his deportation in 2002.
Chavez is believed to be one of hundreds of U.S. veterans who have served in the armed forces but were later deported after getting into trouble. He had the misconception that because of his service, he was automatically a U.S. citizen.
He moved with his family to Mexico, and his wife, who does not speak Spanish, commuted across the border for work. Eventually his family moved to Iowa, leaving him in Mexico.
Chavez was able to return home to the United States after California Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned him and an immigration judge ruled to restore his U.S. residency.
Chavez was invited by Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA) to be her guest at the 2018 State of the Union address.
Politics aside, Chavez has a clear message: “Veterans should not be getting deported. Anybody picking up a firearm to defend this country shouldn’t be deported.”
It’s been a tough road back for Chavez as he works to rebuild his life. He and his wife have divorced, and he is working to re-establish his relationship with his children.
“It’s like coming out of high school with nothing,” he said. “I’ve got to start over. That’s kind of what it’s like. I am getting another start, but a late one.”