LOS ANGELES (CBSLA)  —  It was a homecoming 15 years in the making.

Veteran Marco Chavez walked across the U.S.-Mexican border today to be reunited with his family.

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Chavez said he didn’t know if this day would ever come.  Now he’s ready to begin his new life.

Surrounded by supporters, family and friends, U.S. Marine veteran Chavez made his dramatic return from Mexico – walking across the border for the first time in more than a decade. His reentry was made possible by Governor Jerry Brown, who pardoned the 45-year-old father and  grandfather.

“I was in disbelief. I believe it now. I’m over here. I have the paperwork.” Chavez said.

“In an era where we see so much darkness surrounding immigration and immigration reform and deportations and families being separated – this is a rare moment of light,” said San Diego Councilman Nathan Fletcher.

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Chavez, who was brought to the U.S. as a baby, served honorably and came home to LA.

Years later he was convicted of animal cruelty, even though he insisted he was innocent. The conviction revoked his green card and he was deported. But this year, Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned him  and an immigration judge reinstated the card.

Chavez said a veteran’s advocacy group and the ACLU were instrumental in getting his case to the governor.

His first priority? Spending Christmas with his kids. His sons were just children when left. Now they’re full grown – and he’s a grandfather.

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“I’ll be able to wake up Christmas morning and hug them,” he said. “And let them know I’m home.”