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In what his attorneys are calling a “landmark legal victory,” a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was deported to Mexico will be able to return to the United States.

An immigration judge ruled that Marine Corps veteran Marco Chavez could return to the U.S.—something that rarely happens.

Marco Chavez pictured in uniform. (Image provided by Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported Coalition)

Chavez was brought to the U.S. when he was just a year old. By 19, he had gained permanent residency status and enlisted in the Marines, where he served for four years. (Roughly 35,000 non-citizens are serving in active duty.)

In 1998, Chavez was convicted of animal cruelty and spent 15 months in state prison. Even though he had served in the military and had completed his sentence, his single conviction made him a priority for deportation. He was deported in 2002, leaving behind three children.

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But in April of this year, California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Chavez after advocates with the Honorably Discharged, Dishonorably Deported Coalition filed a request for clemency on his behalf. It marked the first time that a state governor pardoned a deported veteran, according to Chavez’s representatives.

Once Chavez was pardoned, his lawyers went to federal immigration court to see if his status could change in light of the governor’s decision. On November 28, an immigration judge restored his legal status. Representatives with the coalition and the ACLU made the news public today, after Chavez was able to share the news with his family.

“The decision is significant, as [it] marks [the] first time we’ve been able to restore the legal status of a deported veteran,” Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights and senior staff attorney for the ACLU of California, told Splinter in an email.

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Immigration officials have not released official data on the number of deported veterans but experts say there could be thousands of them. They are banned from the U.S. and can only return once they are dead.

Honorably discharged veterans who have been deported are still entitled to burial at a U.S. military cemetery.