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NAU runner sets record for Guatemala, finishes 12th in Olympic final

By: - August 6, 2021 3:37 pm

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Luis Grijalva, the Northern Arizona University long-distance runner who almost could not travel to compete in the Olympic Games in Tokyo because he lacks an immigration status in the U.S., is now a record-setting Olympian. 


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Grijalva left Guatemala when he was an infant and migrated to the U.S. He grew up in California and has a temporary employment benefit and some protections from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA is available to some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country prior to 2012 and before turning 16. 

One of those protections is that its beneficiaries, often called dreamers, can travel outside the U.S. and return under special circumstances through a permit called advanced parole. The process to obtain advanced parole usually takes about three months, but Grijalva needed it expedited after he was named to the Guatemalan Olympic team. A few days before he had to travel to Japan, the federal government granted him the permission to travel and return

On Friday morning, Grijalva finished 12th in the final race, setting a new 5,000-meter record for Guatemala with a 13:10.09 time. 

Earlier this week, Grijalva qualified for the final race in the 5,000 meters competition, which made him the first Guatemalan to ever make a track and field final in the Olympic Games, according to Let’sRun.com

On Friday, other DACA recipients, like Arizona’s Reyna Montoya, and advocates celebrated Grijalva’s achievement as a win for immigrant communities in the US too. 

The DACA program faced termination under the Trump Administration and several lawsuits, and unfilled promises over the years of Congressional action to give certainty to generations of dreamers and their families.

A federal judge in Texas in July blocked the federal government from considering new applications for DACA, leaving thousands of young dreamers without the protections their older peers enjoy. 

A proposal in Congress has stalled in Senate budget talks but would give DACA recipients and other undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez Rodriguez previously covered state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror.