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DACA Guatemalan Runner Qualifies For Olympics, But His Immigration Status Was A Big Hurdle To Get To The Games

With just days before the Olympic Games were set to start, champion runner Luis Grijalva was waiting for the news of his life: would he be allowed to travel to Japan to compete in the Olympics? Just over a month earlier he had officially qualified for the games and had hoped to represent his native Guatemala in track and field. But the DACA recipient’s Olympic future was up in the air since it wasn’t clear if the United States would allow him to leave the country in order to compete.

Luis Grijalva got the news he was waiting for and is in Tokyo competing for his dream.

It was just days before the Olympic Games were set to start in Tokyo when the Arizona college student got the news he had been waiting for. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) approved his request for advance parole which would allow him to leave the country and return home without any issue. This meant that he’d be able to travel to Japan to compete for the dream he had spent his entire life training for.

The long-distance runner qualified for the Olympic Games in June and had been desperately seeking permission from USCUS to leave in time to compete with the Guatemala team in Tokyo. But it was a complicated ask since DACA recipients are required to get special permission in order to leave and reenter the country – even if he was traveling to something as important as the Olympics.

“If I don’t get the permit in time and if I do go to the Games, then technically I’ll be self-deporting, which — I won’t go if I don’t get the permit,” he told NBC News. But thankfully, with just days to spare, Grijalva made it to Tokyo in time to compete with his Guatemalan teammates.

Grijalva is a champion long distance runner and will be representing his native Guatemala at the Tokyo Games.

Although he couldn’t represent the U.S. at the Olympics because of his immigration status, he was selected by Guatemala for that country’s long-distance running delegation. And with good reason, since Grijalva had recently finished second in the NCAA 5,000-meter final with a time of 13 minutes, 13.14 seconds – which surpassed the Olympic standard time of 13:13.5, thereby earning the Olympic qualification.

He was honored for the opportunity but didn’t know if there was enough time to apply for and receive the needed permits in order to leave the U.S. and travel to the games. But doubt and fear never stopped Grijalva from chasing after his dreams in the past and now wasn’t the time to let them start.

Grijalva came to the U.S. from Guatemala at just one year old and grew up in California. Throughout school he excelled at running, breaking school records, winning state championships and earning a full scholarship to Northern Arizona University, where he helped lead the school to three NCAA championships. Grijalva has even signed a contract with the shoe company Hoka One One.

“The opportunities I had coming to the United States provided me with so much more than I could ask for,” Grijalva told The New York Times.

Grijalva knows how important his success is to the hundreds of thousands of other DREAMERS in the U.S.

Thankful for the opportunities he’s been given in the U.S., including being able to travel to Japan to represent his native Guatemala, Grijalva is aware that his life may inspire others.

Before he received the news that he’d be allowed to make the journey to Tokyo, Grijalva shared an emotional Instagram post. In it, he noted that although he began his “roots” in Guatemala, living in the United States since he was a year old makes him feel “as American as anybody else who was born here.”

And he knows how important his journey is to the hundreds of thousands of others just like him.

“It would be an honor and a privilege to represent my home country but also be able to be a voice and represent over 600,000 Dreamers like me,” he wrote. “Tomorrow morning I will be marching down the USCIS office in Phoenix to make one last effort in gaining an advance parole that allows me to leave the country and be able to return safely.”

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