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NAU cross-country runner cleared for Olympics after DACA status hurdle

A Northern Arizona University track and field athlete who has no immigration status succeeded at securing a special permission from the federal government on Monday to travel to compete in the Olympics Games in Tokyo and return to the U.S.

Luis Miguel Grijalva, who was brought to the U.S. when he was an infant, was offered a spot to represent his native Guatemala at the Olympics in July. Grijalva is a member of three NCAA cross country champion teams at NAU, LetsRun.com reported

But Grijalva faces travel restrictions because of his lack of immigration status. 

He is among the more than 600,000 teens and adults in the U.S. who benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a temporary program that grants a work permit and protection for deportation to some people who arrived in the US as children.

But while DACA protects recipients, it is not an immigration status. That means those who benefit from it don’t have a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship, and the government only allows them to travel and return to the US for educational, employment or humanitarian purposes through a process called advanced parole. 

Grijalva submitted an expedited request for advanced parole in early July, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services usually takes about three months to adjudicate those requests, his lawyer, Jessica Smith Bobadilla, said. 

A social media campaign using the hashtag #LetLuisRun brought attention to his case. But with no decision from USCIS and the looming early August date for the 5,000-meter race in Japan that Grijalva was hoping to run, the lawyer went with her gut feeling. Smith Bobadilla, who’s based in California, bought a plane ticket to Phoenix and told the young athlete to prepare to walk into the USCIS office in Phoenix on Monday morning. 

“DACA takes away my freedom of ever leaving the country and be able to come back in,”  Grijalva wrote in a July 25 post on Instagram. “Even though my roots started in Guatemala in some ways I feel as American as anybody else who was born here… 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. 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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On Monday, he walked out from the USCIS office with the travel document.

Grijalva will be running for Guatemala on Aug. 3 for the preliminary 5,000-meter race, CNN reported

Smith Bobadilla said he’s expected to travel to Tokyo by the end of the week.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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Jessica Smith Bobadilla

Luis Miguel Grijalva