The 2020 Olympics might be over, but the stories of the athletes who competed in the games are still inspiring us.
Luis Grijalva’s story is far from ordinary. Though the Northern Arizona University student qualified and was added to the Guatemalan Olympic team back in June, his qualification did not guarantee his attendance. Along with roughly 650,000 in the U.S., Grijalva is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — a program put together by the Obama administration to offer protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. However, under the program, no DACA recipient who leaves the country is permitted to return.
There are, however, exceptions to DACA recipients, also referred to as DREAMers. They can ask for permission as long as they can provide a reason that is for humanitarian, educational, or employment, giving Luis hope. However, permission — whether granted or denied — usually takes three months to come to fruition. With the Olympics fast approaching earlier in the summer, Grijalva didn’t have that time.
On social media, Grijalva shared, “I came to States at a year old. I have lived in the U.S. for more than 21 years. All my life, all I have know[n] is the United States. Even though my roots started in Guatemala in some ways, I feel as American as anybody else who was born here.”
He continues, “DACA takes away my freedom of ever leaving the country and be able to come back in. I have been selected to represent Guatemala in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It would be an honor and a privilege to represent my home country and be a voice and represent over 600,000 Dreamers like me. “
Though born in Guatemala, Grijalva has made a footprint in the U.S. as a runner. He earned a full scholarship to Northern Arizona University, and while competing there, he helped take the team to the three National Championships. After his big qualifying race in June, he turned pro and signed an endorsement deal with the shoe company Hoka One One.
Before the Olympics, Grijalva hired attorney Jessica Smith Bobadilla, and together they asked the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to quickly approve Grijalva’s attendance at the Tokyo Olympics. It didn’t take long, and after hours of waiting in the immigration office, he was granted permission.
Grijalva’s fate in the Olympics came just as the DACA program was back in the news. After being introduced by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, Former President Donald J. Trump attempted to end the protection. However, a federal judge ordered the government to reinstate it in late 2020. Last month, Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the United States District Court in Houston ruled that the program was unlawful, stating that President Obama exceeded his authority by instituting the program in the first place. That decision is expected to be appealed by sitting President Joe Biden.
As for Grijalva, he went on to finish 12th in the men’s 5,000-meter race final after arriving a few days before his qualifying race. “To be able to represent my birth country to the best that I can with a new Guatemalan national record in very hot and humid conditions is unreal,” he wrote on Instagram. “I have a lot of gratitude running at these Olympic Games. Thank you all for making my dreams become a reality.”