SAN DIEGO (CNS) - 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, according to the organization.

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

"No one who was willing to die for this country should be deported," said Fletcher, himself a former Marine who served in Iraq. "In a time when the immigration debate in America seems so dark, Marco Chavez's historic legal victory and return home is a ray of light and hope."

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.

"I missed the childhood of my three children and I have two grandchildren now I've not met," Chavez said. "With the restoration of my legal status, I feel like I've been given my life back."

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