Miguel Aguilar Shares His Struggles As an MLS Player With an Uncertain Immigration Status

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Last August, we profiled Miguel Aguilar, the Juárez native who – after going 17th overall to DC United in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft – became the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) athlete to sign a contract with a major professional sports team.

A year has passed since then, but Aguilar’s significance and import as a politically prominent player has remained as robust as ever, perhaps even more so given the U.S.’s current political climate. Just last week, The Guardian’s Simon Campbell published a fantastic feature titled “Miguel Aguilar: the Most Politically Significant Player in MLS.

“A rarely gifted player,” the article reads, “an intelligent, two-footed, lightning streak attacker of devilish precision and deceptive strength.” In 26 appearances in his first season with the squad, Aguilar showed great skill and struck twice for his side, including this slick game winner against Austin Aztex.

While reflecting on his first year, Aguilar told Campbell that it’s a “big difference between college and the pros. The speed of play, the physicality, and just that every player is a lot smarter than back in college. It is the little habits that really make the difference. A lot of guys at the college level, they have a lot of skill but they don’t have those habits that separate a professional player. So I just worked on picking up as many of those habits as I could.”

For him, picking up professional habits on the pitch goes hand in hand with more challenging moments; after a CONCACAF Champions League game in Costa Rica, for example, he was detained by customs in Miami while his teammates moved on to their final destination. “This was probably one of the worst experiences I have had to go through,” he said. “I was stuck at customs for three hours.”

As a DACA athlete, Aguilar is the recipient of a renewable work permit that grants him two years in the U.S. (given his status as an immigrant who arrived in the country before the age of 16). Thus, official team travel involves intense scrutiny of his permit and his Mexican passport.

Photo by Julio Cortez
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“I’ve always had to ‘deal’ with it. So I am used to it and have learned to just kind of embrace it,” he went on. “Instead of have it hinder me I try to use it to my advantage. I wouldn’t say I get angry, but upset at times, just certain things I wish I could do or certain things I wish I didn’t have to do or go through. It is what it is, I can’t do anything about that but just keep moving forward.”

Moving forward and making imagined possibilities a reality for others who might dream of one day being in his position. “I feel like I am just paving the way for a lot of good players. Because I know there are a lot of good players out there and they doubt themselves, maybe because they are not American or something. Hopefully I can just show everyone out there that it is possible. You can do it. You just have to really fight for it.”

For more on Aguilar’s story, check out our profile here, and be sure to watch him in action when DC United visits the LA Galaxy in its season opener on March 6 (10:00 p.m. EST).