How Daca Helped Athletes Realize Their Dreams in America US Sports


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Adrian Escarate remembers the final of the Miami Open 2017 very well. On that day it was his mission to help Roger Federer prepare for the championship game against Rafael Nadal.

Escarate, a Chilean immigrant who ran the tennis team at St. Thomas University in Miami, spent 30 minutes warming up Federer on center court. And maybe the preparation helped Federer, who won the title.

“I was really nervous,” said Escarate. “He was super nice, the nicest guy ever.”

It was one of the highlights of Escarate’s 10 year career coaching tennis – which would have been impossible without the Child Arrivals or Daca Delayed Action Program.

Founded during the Obama administration, Daca helps undocumented young immigrants like Escarate to stay and find work in the US. Today there are around 650,000 Daca recipients in the country. (They are sometimes called dreamers – a term that includes all young undocumented immigrants in the United States, a number estimated between 2 and 2.5 million.) Exercise is part of the Daca narrative. Interviews with current or former DAACA recipients show that overall the program has helped them find opportunities in sport. If it can weather the recent challenge in court, it can also help the next generation of immigrant athletes.

Perhaps the first prominent Daca athlete was Miguel Aguilar, selected by DC United in the 2015 Major League Soccer draft.

In an essay for The Players’ Tribune, Aguilar recalled “how important it was for me to have Daca”. He added, “It allowed me to follow my dream and finally become what I always wanted to be.”

Aguilar now works for the state of California after his MLS career ended in 2018. He is no longer a Daca recipient who married a US citizen and received a green card. However, the program is “something that is very close and dear to me. I’m still following it very closely. “

Last summer, the US Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to overturn Daca. The government of Biden issued an executive order in January calling for the preservation and fortification of Daca. There is currently an immigration bill in Congress. However, Texas District Court judge Andrew Hanen is set to rule the program separately, making proponents fearful.

“He may declare the program unlawful and therefore terminate the program,” said Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, a Daca recipient who works as state and local policy manager for United We Dream.

“It’s tough, isn’t it?” Aguilar said about the upcoming court case. “Because it would decide the life of [650,000] People. Because we don’t forget, we’re talking about Daca, we’re talking about people like me, from many places, everyone here who does something with their life, something positive. “

When Daca was passed away in 2012, it helped Aguilar’s dreamer colleague Escarate to become a respected tennis coach. The youngest college graduate was given a Social Security number and driver’s license and found a coach job at prestigious Miami venues such as the Biltmore Tennis Center and Salvadore Park Tennis Center.

“When Daca started it opened doors for me,” said Escarate. “I could breathe a sigh of relief … It catapulted me into opportunities.”

Probably the greatest opportunity was working with Federer at the Miami Open. “It was amazing,” said Escarate. “I still can’t put into words.”

From 2017 to 2019, he helped other top professional players prepare for the tournament, including Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov.

“There have been a case or two where a professional player’s coach asked me if I would play on the Pro Tour,” said Escarate. “He saw how well I played, that I tried to make it as a professional. I was not [playing on the pro tour]because of my immigration status. I had to make money, had to teach tennis. I couldn’t really travel, even in the States. That would be a financial burden. “

Escarate gave some lessons to then Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a tennis enthusiast who invited him as a guest for the 2018 State of the Union Address. Although many Daca recipients were invited that year, Escarate was the only one invited by a Republican. He gained an appreciation for working across political divisions, if not for Donald Trump.

Trump said that “[he] was willing to work with the Daca legislation in exchange for billions of dollars for a border wall in exchange for all those negative bills that would be associated with the Daca legislation, ”recalled Escarate. “Poison pills to increase border security, accelerate deportations, get rid of family-based visas … I didn’t agree with that.”

Trump’s speech also frustrated Nicolle Uria, a Daca student from Virginia, who also attended the State of the Union speech. At the time, she was a standout player for her high school volleyball team.

“Volleyball has sometimes helped me get out of my comfort zone,” said Uria. “I was able to really expand my energy through volleyball. It helped me a lot in high school dealing with the fear of either losing my Daca or students who knew I had Daca and bullied me about it. I loved playing volleyball. “

After sharing her immigration trip with the Washington Post, the resulting article caught the attention of her Congressman Gerry Connolly, who invited her to the state of the Union.

“I met Cory Booker, Nancy Pelosi, people who are really for Daca and support Daca,” said Uria. “It was so great. At the same time, it was a bit scary … Several people texted me with mean stuff. “

The president’s speech was a disappointment to her and to her fellow dreamers with whom she was sitting.

“He said we were gang members, a threat to society,” said Uria. “Some dreamers were so disappointed. It was very sad that he would say something like that right in front of us. “

As a Bolivian immigrant, Uria first found out she was undocumented when her father explained why, as a sophomore high school student, she couldn’t get a driver’s license for learner drivers. She was silent about her status at first and wasn’t sure how people would react at school.

However, the next academic year coincided with the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump despised undocumented immigrants and called for a border wall with Mexico. His feelings were reflected in jokes Uria overheard at a volleyball awards show and overheard teammates who didn’t know she was a dreamer.

One step in realizing their ability to be vocal was winning an MVP leadership award in a tournament.

“It really helped me feel like a leader for my colleagues, my entire team and the girls who play with me,” said Uria. “Often times I didn’t have the confidence to play volleyball when people found out I had Daca. Many of my friends have stopped being friends with me … A teacher said there should be a wall [because] Mexicans crossed the border. There were a lot of jokes. I had to come out and raise my colleagues. “

Sometimes acceptance replaced hostility, even if it won the Leadership Award.

“Our coach was super happy,” she said. “My teammates hugged me. It was great to have all this lovely support from the community, teammates and classmates after coming out as a Daca student. “

Daca has “great benefits that have helped me a lot,” she said, including state college tuition fees. “It scared me that I couldn’t pay.”

She is currently attending Northern Virginia Community College and works in a variety of professions to pay tuition fees. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, this involved teaching kids to volleyball at a local community center. She played college volleyball in her freshman semester, but had to quit because of work commitments. She is confident that tuition fees will go down and she will be able to visit her home country if stronger protection for Daca recipients emerges – something she was unable to do last year when her uncle died of Covid-19 in Bolivia.

Escarate received his Masters in Communication from St. Thomas in 2019 and was looking for a full-time position in the field. He found a job in the Bay Area and worked for Define American, a nonprofit that aims to promote fairer media coverage of immigrants. He has become his assistant chief of staff and still occasionally teaches tennis.

“I think sport and immigration are intertwined in every way,” said Escarate. “There are immigrants, young people with a migration background, athletes with a migration background who I am sure have Daca.”

For Daca recipients who want to make it to sport like they used to be, he said, “Keep a positive attitude towards things… try not to be disappointed or hindered by what happens to your legal status. Stay tuned, stay positive, stick with it. “

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