Immigration Reform: Another Player on Your Favorite Sports Team

Gaby Thomas, Sport's Writer

You switch on the television. The news at the moment is dominated by coverage of a natural disaster’s destruction. The next station consists of debates regarding the latest piece of immigration reform announced by the federal government. Switching the channel once more leaves you watching one of this country’s pride and joys: professional sports.  

At first, sports in the United States seems to be a seemingly light-hearted asylum which neither hurricanes or anti-immigration bills can touch. However, the players that kick or throw the ball across your television screen are not immune from immigration policy.

Of the 554 athletes that competed for the United States in the 2016 Rio Olympics, 47 of them were born outside the United States. This year, 259 of a total of 868 Major League Baseball Players were not U.S. – born.

In 2015, there was a record number of 12 international players that were drafted to the National Football league. In 2014, 11 of the U.S. Men’s World Cup Soccer Team were immigrants.  This trend of international players competing in the United States, for U.S. teams, extends from ice hockey and track and field all the way to sailing and  golf. 

While some athletes were immigrants to the United States first and then professionals second, there has also been a large increase recently in drafting internationally. Just like any other immigrant attempting to move to the United States for job opportunities, the paperwork that international athletes have to complete is extensive and arduous.  

A P1 Visa is required to play for a U.S. major league team, and such visas are not granted to minor league players. The player must also have significant playing time for the renewal of the visa and are preferred to have obtained a college education in the United States. Eventually, if a player accumulates enough notoriety, the player can obtain a green card for “extraordinary ability”, which tends to be preferred as the athlete has most likely built a life in the United States over their tenure as a professional athlete.

While the process of immigrating to the United States for athletics had become less of a hassle under the Bush and Obama administrations due to refined rules for professional athletes, the Trump administration is leaving a trail of questions on the impact the new immigration restrictions will have on these athletes.

During Trump’s 90 day ban on immigrants entering the United States from a select group of Muslim-majority countries, athletes from those respective countries were in limbo about their status as an American athlete. Thon Maker, a rookie on the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks who is a refugee from South Sudan, was unsure if he would be able to re-enter the United States after the Bucks played the Toronto Raptors in Canada.  Luckily, due to dual-citizenship, he was able to cross the border without question.

The recent amendments to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, could also prove to leave its mark in professional athletics. In 2015, Miguel Aguilar was the first DACA recipient to become a professional athlete when he was drafted by D.C. United of Major League Soccer.  

Aguilar currently plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy, yet the possibility of deportation is slowly growing. He has lived in the United States since he was nine, attending and playing soccer for the University of San Francisco, where he graduated with a 3.7 GPA.  Not only do the immigration reforms affect current athletes with DACA status, but it could also impact hopeful athletes who may wish to make their mark in professional sports in the years to come.

Many other countries welcome American athletes to play in their professional leagues, and with the large number of foreign players on American teams, it will be interesting to see how further reform will affect relations among international athletic communities. For now, you can continue watching your favorite international athletes hit a home run, score a goal, cross the finish line, make a touchdown and thrive in the limelight of the United State’s affinity for sports.