What does the sport of handball mean to you? Probably not much.
It meant something to President Abraham Lincoln, who played handball as he awaited the results of the presidential nominating convention in Chicago in May 1860.
Over the past couple years I found out what handball means to Luis Moreno. It is a gateway to fulfilling his dreams in the United States.
Envision this timeline of events:
· Luis last entered the United States in 1997, when he was only nine years old, but had lived in the U.S. since he was two.
· A graduate of Tucson's Sunnyside High School, Luis lived much of 22 years in the United States without documentation.
· Last week Luis became a lawful permanent resident based on his extraordinary abilities as a handball player.
· Next week Luis will represent the United States, the only country he has ever known, in the World Handball Championships in Ireland. He is a favorite to win it all.
Luis is yet another example of how complicated it is to navigate through the draconian U.S. immigration system. Luis was 20 years old when he was arrested by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Tucson airport, while attempting to travel to a handball tournament. He was not married, had no children and had little hope in fighting his removal case. Fortunately, there was a long forgotten document that Luis did not realize would ultimately save him.
In 2000, Luis was introduced to the Yes-2-Kids organization which provides mentoring to children in at-risk neighborhoods in Tucson. He was introduced to the sport of handball and quickly became enamored with it. By 2003 he began to compete in major tournaments and rapidly shot up the national junior rankings. Eventually he reached number one on the World Pro Handball Tour.
Gloria Goldman met with Luis and immediately realized that he was an individual who embodied extraordinary ability in athletics. He was undoubtedly at the top of his field. After discussing his family’s immigration history, she also realized that if she filed an I-140 petition as an individual with extraordinary ability and got an approval, Luis would benefit from that aforementioned document: An I-130 petition filed by his grandmother on behalf of his father on September 7, 1994. Luis would be the beneficiary of INA §245(i) as a minor derivative of a “grandfathered alien” from that petition. Without 245(i) he would have no other options to straighten out his immigration status and remain in the U.S. permanently.
To be considered “extraordinary” under the immigration law, the applicant must be “one of that small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.” Luis was number one in the world. You would probably guess that number one is rising to the top of the field. Not according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which denied his petition on September 16, 2011.
Not to be deterred, Gloria and Luis regrouped and re-filed the petition on June 1, 2012. Fortunately, this time around, the USCIS officer granted the petition. Luis was one step closer to becoming a resident. One final step remained: With only a few months until the World Championships Luis was able to get his removal case terminated and September 27, 2012, adjust his status to lawful permanent residency.
In the matter of a month, Luis Moreno has gone from being undocumented and facing some grim uncertainty about his future to now representing a country that he loves in the highest level of competition. Whatever the results from his competition in Ireland, he knows that he will be welcomed back to the United States. He’s another example of what individual perseverance and wise immigration policy can lead to.