NAU track star and DACA recipient to compete in the Olympics
PHOENIX — A Northern Arizona University track star’s longtime dream of competing in the Olympics almost didn’t come true.
That’s because 22-year-old Luis Grijalva is undocumented. However, he’s protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which also allows him to travel outside the United States and come back with permission through a process called advance parole.
On Monday, his request to travel to Tokyo to compete in the Olympics was approved.
“I think Luis is the first DACA permit holder to qualify for the Olympics and to travel to the Olympics,” Jessica Bobadilla, California-based immigration attorney who represents Grijalva, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.
Grijalva leaves for Tokyo on Friday. He’ll compete in the preliminary 5,000-meter race on Aug. 3, representing his native country of Guatemala.
The NAU track and field athlete announced the news through his Instagram account on Monday saying, “It’s official I’m going to Tokyo.” In a prior post, he shared that he has been living in the U.S. almost his entire life.
“Even though my roots started in Guatemala in some ways I feel as American as anybody else who was born here,” he said.
Grijalva also talked about what competing in the Olympics would mean for him.
“It would be a 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.
Grijalva qualified for the Olympics in June after he finished second in the men’s 5,000-meter race at the NCAA track and field championship. Soon after that, he contacted Bobadilla to ask for her help to apply for advance parole so he could travel to Tokyo.
“We quickly filed a permit for travel with an expedited request through the normal process,” Bobadilla said.
She explained U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves these types of travel permits for limited reasons, including to visit an ailing relative, for education purposes or for a work-related reason.
When they didn’t get a response right away, they turned to U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran’s office for help to pressure USCIS. Caseworkers from the Arizona congressman’s office called and sent letters to Acting Tucson Field Director Joby Eberly.
Bobadilla said she and Grijalva also filed an emergency application in person at the USCIS office in Phoenix on Monday, which was approved. Bobadilla, who has been an immigration attorney for more than decades, called it “unprecedented.”
“I’ve never had something for an international event, like the Olympics, granted on an emergency basis,” she said. “But we were able to accomplish that.”