DACA recipient allowed to leave U.S. to compete in Olympics

When Luis Grijalva finished second in the men’s 5,000-meter final at the NCAA track and field championships earlier this summer, he thought he had finally overcome every obstacle to make it to the Tokyo Olympics. But then he realized one major problem — he wasn’t allowed to leave the U.S. 

Grijalva, a track star at Northern Arizona University, earned a personal best of 13:13:14 during that race, fast enough to qualify to represent his home country, Guatemala, at this year’s Games. But as a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, he cannot leave the country. 

In most circumstances, recipients of DACA — an Obama-era policy to protect hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were kids — are not permitted to return if they leave the U.S. But Grijalva has spent weeks petitioning the government to make an exception for his Olympic debut. 

2020 NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Cross Country Championship
Luis Grijalva at the Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships held at the OSU Cross Country Course on March 15, 2021, in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Grijalva moved to Fairfield, California at one year old and has lived there for more than 21 years. He said on Instagram that the U.S. is all he has ever known. 

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

“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 added. 

On Monday, the five-time All-American, who is now officially a professional athlete, went to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Phoenix “to make one last effort” to request permission to be able to both leave the country and return safely. 

And he was successful. 

Grijalva was granted permission to travel to Japan for the Games with an advanced reentry document, which will allow him to return home. He celebrated on social media, saying, “It’s official, I’m going to Tokyo.” 

The 616,000 immigrants enrolled in DACA are shielded from deportation and allowed to work legally in the U.S. Enrollment, which must be renewed every two years, does not place beneficiaries on a pathway to citizenship.

Biden recently urged Congress to legalize Dreamers and provide them “certainty and stability.”

“I have repeatedly called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, and I now renew that call with the greatest urgency,” Mr. Biden said. “It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”