When Luis Grijalva crossed the finish line at the NCAA Athletics Championships last month, he knew he could achieve his Olympic dream.
But first, immigration officials would have to agree to allow the 22-year-old runner to travel outside of the United States and return to his home country.
Grijalva is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) who will travel to Japan on Friday to represent Guatemala in the 5000 meter race at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He and his attorney spent several weeks soliciting U.S. citizenship and immigration services for a special permit known as early parole that allows DACA recipients to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad.
They weren’t sure if the immigration authorities would be able to give Grijalva permission in time, but on Monday, after weeks of uncertainty, he received the travel permit.
“It is a privilege and an honor to represent Guatemala because that is where I was born (where I) have generations of families and that is where my roots began,” he told CNN.
Grijalva was only one year old when his family moved from Guatemala to New York City. The family of five later moved to Fairfield, California, where Grijalva often ran Thanksgiving turkey races with other children for fun.
During these holiday races and physical education classes, Grijalva slowly noticed that he was faster than other children his age. But it wasn’t until he was a teenager at Armijo High School in Fairfield that he realized how much he loved running and, with the help of his coaches, focused on becoming a cross-country runner, he said.
Since graduating from high school, a full scholarship at Northern Arizona University has helped Grijalva stay competitive while pursuing a career in communication. In the last three years he has increased his performance and improved his personal bests.
Last month, he finished runner-up in the men’s 5,000 meter run at the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon. He had a time of 13 minutes and 13.14 seconds – a performance that became his ticket to the Olympics.
Although he was unable to represent the United States in the Olympics for several reasons, including his immigration status, Guatemala selected him for the country’s delegation. He was honored for the opportunity but did not know if he would have enough time to apply and obtain an immigration permit.
At that point, Grijalva says, he had around 27 days to get travel authorization. The process to get a permit takes at least 90 days, said Jessica Smith Bobadilla, an attorney for Grijalva.
Smith Bobadilla said they could have made a very detailed motion and contacted Arizona lawmakers about Grijalva’s situation. On Monday, they made one last attempt to expedite his application and went to the USCIS offices in Phoenix, they said.
Grijalva says it was “unbelievable” when immigration officials confirmed he was granted travel authorization after waiting several hours in the office.
He will compete for Guatemala for the preliminary 5000 meter race on August 3rd. After the Olympics, he will continue his professional career after signing a contract with the shoe company Hoka One One.
“To be honest, it is a dream to pursue a passion that doesn’t feel like a job,” said Grijalva. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Read the full story of Grijalva here.
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