Immigrant Olympians Underscore Urgent Need For Pathway to Citizenship

WASHINGTON, DC – While millions of Americans are cheering on Team USA at the Olympics, this year’s games are an urgent reminder of how we must create a working, modern immigration system that includes a pathway to citizenship for families and communities across our country. Nearly 40 immigrants are representing the United States on Team USA in Tokyo, with many more first- and second-generation Americans with immigrant roots competing alongside them. It’s an exciting time for these athletes – but other athletes who should be going for gold are instead stuck in limbo after the latest federal ruling against DACA. For far too long, lack of a pathway to citizenship – and the fear and uncertainty that comes with it – has held back millions of individuals from realizing their full potential. Athletes like Luis Grijalva and Amro Elgeziry, who are both competing at the Olympics this year, exemplify how gaining citizenship can be transformative.

Luis Grijalva, a DACA recipient from California, qualified to represent his country of birth, Guatemala, at the Olympics in the 5,000m race, but was initially denied permission to travel to Tokyo, effectively eliminating his ability to compete due to his status. He petitioned USCIS and was belatedly granted approval to travel on July 26. Grijalva has shared that he’s “excited to run at the games and represent Guatemala, but also to leave the country and know [he] can return to the country safely.” Grijalva’s race will take place on Tuesday, August 3rd.

U.S. Army Sergeant Amro Elgeziry, a three-time Olympian for Egypt – and now a naturalized U.S. citizen – immigrated to the U.S in 2014. Shortly after joining the U.S. Army, he was granted citizenship and began competing for Team USA through the Army’s World Class Athletes Program. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants – many of whom eventually gain citizenship – serve in our military. Gaining citizenship has allowed Elgeziry to represent Team USA, and he will be competing in the modern pentathlon starting Thursday, August 5.

For Grijalva, citizenship would be a lifeline granting him the certainty to continue building his life in the U.S. – as it’s done for Elgeziry. Only Congress’ passage of a pathway to citizenship can provide hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients, as well as millions of other individuals like TPS holders, essential frontline workers, and farmworkers, the opportunity to live safely and contribute fully to the country they know as home. The majority of Americans of all backgrounds strongly support granting citizenship. Lawmakers must act with urgency to make it happen.

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