Deported Activist Reunited With His Family After 20 Year Legal Battle

(San Francisco, CA)—Committed advocate, father, and grandfather, Robert Vivar, was reunited with his family today in San Diego after 20 years of tirelessly fighting for himself and veterans to return to the U.S. During the time Mr. Vivar was deported and living in Mexico he worked with other deported veterans with their cases and has been an ally with immigrant communities and organizations to push the New Way Forward Act, a bill that would decriminalize immigration and address injustice and systemic racism in the U.S. immigration system. 

“I can describe it in one word FREEDOM, I feel like after close to 20 years since my first deportation, I am finally free,” Mr. Vivar said. “Living undocumented in the USA is like being in a prison without bars. Being deported is also like being in prison, because you don’t have the freedom to see your loved ones.” 

Vivar, director of the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans Resource Center, was deported in 2002, despite his then-counsel's failure to properly advise him of the immigration consequences of that plea would result in his deportation to Mexico, a country he left at age six. Mr. Vivar spent years unsuccessfully fighting to undo this result in the courts until the California Legislature enacted a new law, Penal Code section 1473.7, permitting non-citizens to challenge old, unlawful convictions based on guilty pleas with unanticipated immigration consequences. 

“Mr. Vivar faced many obstacles but never wavered in his efforts to return to the U.S. and to his family. His dedication to helping deporting veterans, while still advocating for his own case, is inspirational,” said Rose Cahn, Senior Staff Attorney  with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). “We hope other people deported as the basis of unlawful old convictions are able to return to the U.S. soon.” 

The ILRC has been closely involved with Mr. Vivar’s post-conviction relief efforts. The ILRC originally placed his case with volunteer attorneys from Munger, Tolles and Olsen LLP: Joseph Lee, Dane Shikman, and David Freenock, with support from Ben Horwich, whom the ILRC mentored throughout their representation, up through the successful arguments before the California Supreme Court earlier this year. In that hearing, the Supreme Court ordered the lower court to vacate Mr. Vivar’s past drug conviction. The ILRC also submitted an expert declaration and amicus briefing in Mr. Vivar’s case. 

The ILRC wrote the law, Penal Code section 1473.7, that was used to vacate Mr. Vivar’s unconstitutional conviction.  The ILRC’s advocacy in this case is part of a broad commitment to ensure that no person is deported on the basis of an unconstitutional conviction.

“Mr. Vivar’s case shows that ILRC’s longstanding work with stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels to mitigate the immigration consequences of crimes is showing real results: fewer families are being separated, and more families are being reunited. We are grateful to the pro bono attorneys at Munger Tolles & Olson for their outstanding work in this case,” Cahn said.


The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policy makers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Through community education programs, legal training & technical assistance, and policy development & advocacy, the ILRC works to protect and defend the fundamental rights of immigrant families and communities.