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His DACA Status Almost Dashed His Olympic Hopes. He Just Got The All-Clear

Luis Grijalva, a student at Northern Arizona University, has qualified to compete at the Tokyo Olympics and represent his home country of Guatemala. But as a DACA recipient he couldn't leave the United States without special permission.
Luis Grijalva, a student at Northern Arizona University, has qualified to compete at the Tokyo Olympics and represent his home country of Guatemala. But as a DACA recipient he couldn't leave the United States without special permission.

Luis Grijalva was running against the clock — but this time it wasn't on a track.

The Northern Arizona University track star qualified in June to run at the Tokyo Olympics representing his home country of Guatemala. But leaving the United States to compete abroad wasn't an option.

Grijalva is a DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, recipient. He was born in Guatemala but came to the U.S. at the age of one.

If he left the U.S. without a special permit from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Office, he would be self-deporting and would not be allowed back. But the process of obtaining a permit, known as advance parole, can take months.

Luis Grijalva relaxes with his Northern Arizona University teammates after winning the team championship at the Division I Men's and Women's Cross Country Championships on March 15 in Stillwater, Okla.
Shane Bevel / NCAA Photos via Getty Images
Luis Grijalva relaxes with his Northern Arizona University teammates after winning the team championship at the Division I Men's and Women's Cross Country Championships on March 15 in Stillwater, Okla.

"Even though my roots started in Guatemala in some ways I feel as American as anybody else who was born here," he posted on Instagram, "DACA takes away my freedom of ever leaving the country and be able to come back in. ..."

"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," Grijalva added.

He also said that he was making one last effort to get the USCIS office in Phoenix to grant him advance parole.

On Monday, Grijalva and his immigration lawyer Jessica Smith Bobadilla were successful.

"I just couldn't believe it just because we've been working so hard at it," Grijalva told NPR's Here & Now, "It seemed like a small dream a couple of months ago, but it actually became a reality."

Now, he heads to Tokyo.

"It feels awesome ... to be able to represent my mom, dad, family and generations of [my] family in Guatemala," Grijalva said. "So [it's] pretty special, representing 15 million people of Guatemala. It's an honor and a privilege to run for Guatemala and just run for my people."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.