After years of struggling, Venezuela native Juan Jose Correa Villalonga received a green card to become a permanent legal citizen. His mother, Helene, is a known activist against the Hugo Chavez government, and she fled the country in 2000 in search of a safe life for her and her child, according to The Miami Herald. They sought political asylum in the United States, but were not represented properly by two lawyers.

Villalonga graduated from high school with honors in 2007 and was accepted to the Florida International University with a scholarship. Unfortunately, his undocumented status prohibited him from using the award, and he decided to attend college in Canada, where he was offered several scholarships at different universities.

On his drive from Florida to Canada, Villalonga was stopped by a highway patrol officer, who informed him of a deportation order, which the family was never notified of by their lawyer. Villalonga spent two months in three different prisons before being deported to Venezuela. During his time in Venezuela, he was beaten by men who came to his aunt’s home where he was staying.

Villalonga’s mother played a large role in his process of becoming a U.S. citizen. She campaigned for her son to be returned home in fear of his safety, and was able to sway authorities to expedite his case.

“I feel very fortunate for this,” Villalonga told The Herald days after receiving his green card. “I know there are many people being separated from their families and they never reunite again, so for me this is a blessing.”

Under the proposed immigration reform, illegal immigrants would be given probationary legal status until they receive green cards, and the waiting time is expected to be about 10 years. According to The Spokesman-Review, government officials said border security is a top priority.