Robert Vivar

A father. A husband. An advocate for veterans.

Click to play

Photo by the Los Angeles Times

In 1962, Robert moved to Riverside County from Mexico when he was 6 on a green card. 

But in 2002, Robert had his green card taken away after he unknowingly accepted a plea bargain for an offense that meant automatic deportation.

Robert had been offered several options for plea deals during his case for attempting to steal an over-the-counter medication. He chose one that he thought would allow him to stay in the United States and go to a rehabilitation center for the addiction that he was struggling with at the time.

But it turned out that his attorney hadn’t given him the right information about those plea options. He had unknowingly chosen a charge that meant automatic deportation because it had to do with drug use, making it an “aggravated felony” in immigration law.

Robert Vivar

In early 2003, Robert was deported to Mexico, a country he barely knew.

While Robert had a plan for building a life in Mexico, things didn’t pan out the way he thought. After four months, he was unable to secure a job to sustain himself and took an opportunity to return home to the United States undocumented.

Robert dedicated himself to working and taking care of his family. But in 2013, ICE came to his job site, took him into custody, and deported him to Mexico.

While in Mexico, Robert worked to rebuild his life.

He got a job at a call center and co-founded several non-profit organizations to help other deported individuals with their cases, all while unsuccessfully fighting to undo the result of his own case in the U.S. courts.

Robert found satisfaction in aiding others who haven’t been as fortunate as he was during his deportation.

Through his office at Unified U.S. Deported Veterans Resource Center near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, he tried to help them get the monetary aid and healthcare benefits due to them as veterans.

Sometimes one of the veterans he served would be allowed back into the U.S., and he would accompany them as far as the border allowed.

He’s escorted hundreds from his office, past street vendors and through the car lanes of traffic heading north, to the eastern entrance at the port of entry.

Photo by David Maung

Then in 2020, the California Legislature enacted a new law permitting non-citizens to challenge old, unlawful convictions based on guilty pleas with unanticipated immigration consequences. With help from his lawyers, his case went to the California Supreme Court in early 2021.

It was the first time the court weighed in on the new law.

Robert’s lawyers convinced the Board of Immigration Appeals to undo Vivar’s deportation order and restore his status as a legal permanent resident. Then a defense attorney in Riverside County convinced prosecutors not to bring new charges in the decades-old case.

Photo by the Los Angeles Times

After winning a case before the California Supreme Court, Robert walked back to San Diego from Tijuana on Veterans Day 2021.

Robert now lives in San Diego, California, where he continues to help deported veterans and deported parents of U.S.-citizen children return home.

Photo by Alexandra Mendoza/U-T