SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — A veterans rights activist whose life is deeply rooted in the military was finally allowed to cross the border from Mexico into California, where dozens of friends and family members awaited his return.

His son, an active-duty Air Force airman himself, was among the first to greet him and gave him a big hug.

Robert Vivar is greeted by his son Robert Jr. just outside the pedestrian crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. (Salvador Rivera/Border Report)

“Welcome back,” Robert Vivar Jr. told his father.

It had been almost 20 years since Robert Vivar Sr. had set foot on U.S. soil.

In 2002, he pleaded guilty to a shoplifting charge resulting in his deportation.

Since then, he became the director of the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans Resource Center in Tijuana, dedicating his life to helping deported veterans assimilate to life south of the border while helping them return to the U.S.

“It was like waking up from a nightmare,” said Vivar. “It’s incredible man, Veterans Day when we honor our veterans.”

In spite of his odyssey, Vivar says he’s not bitter and never lost his love for the U.S. and the military.

“My son is currently active duty, I got a grandson who is an active duty Marine, my brother is a Vietnam combat veteran and another older brother who was Vietnam era veteran,” said Vivar. “There’s a lot more deported veterans out there and we need to continue to fight to bring them home and what I hope is that by me being here and able to return they can be motivated to continue the struggle and not give up.”

The California Supreme Court earlier this year ruled Vivar’s crime should have never resulted in deportation and the federal government relented giving Vivar a chance to return home.

Robert Vivar is the Director of the Unified U.S. Deported Veterans Resource Center in Tijuana helping Deported Veterans return to the U.S. (Salvador Rivera/Border Report)

“I did commit a mistake, but I paid for my mistake, however, the consequences of my mistake were not such as to have been deported that’s why I’m here.”

For now, Vivar will live with his son in the Riverside area east of Los Angeles.

“I know he’s super excited. He’s ready to catch up and he’s going to get to hug his grandkids all his brothers and sisters are waiting for him,” said Robert Vivar Jr. “Now he can be there for Christmas, be there for

The turkey and tamales will have to wait, Vivar had his eyes and stomach set on something else for his first evening back in the U.S.

“Maybe steak!”