Mirella Ceja-Orozco on what coaches with immigrant players should know

Mirella Ceja-Orozco  is an immigration attorney at Ojala-Barbour Law Firm PLLC in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Immigration Division, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Law. On Saturday at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Baltimore, Ceja-Orozco hosts the session, Beyond Coaching: Understanding How Current Immigration Policy Affects Players Off the Field.*

SOCCER AMERICA: How has your immigration legal work overlapped with soccer?

MIRELLA CEJA-OROZCO: Over the years, I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with players and coaches in obtaining a variety of immigration-based statuses in the U.S., including athletic visas and Green Cards. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with players entering the MLS Draft as DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipients. More recently I’ve worked with a number of players and coaches overcoming the difficulties of family separation and deportation defense.

Some examples include working with coaches eligible for Green Cards based on their exceptional abilities as coaches and professional athletes. I’ve worked with soccer coaches handling Title IX issues around the country. I also assisted a number of high school players in need of travel permits in order to travel for international soccer tournaments.

SA: Obviously because soccer is a global sport hugely among popular in countries from which most recent immigrants hail, coaches are likely have immigrant players on their team. What are some scenarios in which coaches should be familiar with immigrant rights?

MIRELLA CEJA-OROZCO: Unfortunately, I’ve recently handled phone calls from coaches inquiring as to the family of their players, as that often has a direct impact on the player and their ability to continue playing. Coaches wanting to know what they can do to assist the family, in part to ensure that the player may continue serving as an integral part of the team.

I’ve even received calls from coaches after ICE agents showed up to practices/games looking for individuals associated with their respective team.

In both situations, I was able to walk coaches through their rights and limitations in these situations.

I think it’s really important for coaches, especially those who become more than just a coach for their players, to know what the rights of their players are in the event that they are ever in an unexpected encounter with immigration officers as well as what steps they can take as individuals to assist in these high-stress situations. I think coaches should also familiarize themselves with ways in which they can protect their players while also learning about some of the things they should refrain from doing because of the possible negative consequences that we might not think of. Knowing about what types of documents your players are traveling with is an easy thing to keep in mind, especially as the REAL ID laws go into effect later this year.

SA: How common do you think it is for DACA kids to be involved in soccer?

MIRELLA CEJA-OROZCO: Thousands of DACA recipients play soccer -- at all levels in the USA. I’ve worked with DACA recipients playing JV and varsity, playing for NCAA schools, and know of some who are still active players in the MLS.

Also, keep in mind that there may be parents of youth players who are DACA recipients. They may be the ones registering, transporting, and supporting youth players on your team, which may at some point impact your player’s ability to continue playing should DACA be canceled.

SA: What are the key things coaches should know about DACA?

MIRELLA CEJA-OROZCO: The future of DACA is currently in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling is expected on the continued existence of this program this summer, as the current administration canceled the program in 2017. The outcome could have devastating consequences for players who are recipients of status under the executive order.

Coaches should know that DACA is not a permanent status, meaning that if this program ends, those who hold work authorization or driver’s licenses under this temporary status will lose that and be placed into deportation proceedings. DACA recipients are not eligible for most FAFSA-based financial aid so coaches and recruiters need to keep that in mind when considering financial aid packages they are offering to players. DACA recipients are also no longer allowed to travel outside of the USA (unless it’s to certain U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico) so coaches should be mindful when planning international games or registering for tournaments abroad.

SA: What should coaches should know if they have players with refugee or asylum status on their teams? And could you explain the difference?

MIRELLA CEJA-OROZCO: Refugees are people who come to the U.S. from a place where they escaped some form of harm or violence. They are designated a refugee by the United Nations prior to entering the U.S. An asylee is someone who seeks protection from harm or violence in the U.S. upon arrival or after they have already entered the U.S. but fear returning to their home country.

While coaches are usually there to serve as sports educators and trainers, it often is a coach who becomes the quasi-therapist and mentor as well. Knowing what players are going through often times becomes a big part of team strategy. That being said, coaches who find out that a player may be a refugee or asylee could be very important as they may be dealing with things such PTSD or anxiety. However, because they are not mental health professionals, it is not something anyone expects them to diagnose or handle. It’s more about just being an outlet or support for the player or assisting them finding resources they may need.

SA: What would you recommend a coach do if they believe a player on their team is undocumented? Do undocumented kids have any rights?

MIRELLA CEJA-OROZCO: I honestly think that it’s up to coaches as individuals how much or little they want to get involved. As long as the player is eligible to play in the league or on the team for which they are registered, their immigration status should not matter. All people have certain rights under the U.S. constitution regardless of their status. Coaches should be familiar with that should they ever encounter a situation where invoking those rights becomes necessary. Picking up a KNOW YOUR RIGHTS pamphlet may be all they need in order to protect their players’ interests should there be a need. Having something like updated contact information for multiple family members is also something really easy to obtain and very useful in emergency situations.

SA: Anything you'd like to add or address?

MIRELLA CEJA-OROZCO: Thank you for giving me this platform. It’s truly an honor to offer information or general advice about how people can protect themselves and their teams. However, please know that this is general information and meant to be informative. Should a coach or player encounter these issues, it is always best to consult an immigration attorney as case-specific things may make all the difference in the advice given. And as always, I’m always happy to answer questions or answer emails with concerns.

Mirella Ceja-Orozco, speaker
Baltimore, Saturday, January 18, 1:30 pm-3:00 pm.
Beyond Coaching: Understanding How Current Immigration Policy Affects Players Off the Field
Room: CC 314/315.

5 comments about "Mirella Ceja-Orozco on what coaches with immigrant players should know".
  1. Ric Fonseca, January 17, 2020 at 3:38 p.m.

    Thank you to Mike Woitalla and gto Ms. Mirella Ceja-Orozco.  I've always wondered when the "leagal eagles" would come to the fore and provide assistance and legal advise, and as the DACA situation nears the decision forthcoming from the US Supreme Court, it will be even more important to be ready and act accordingly.  As an adjunct professor of history at a Los Angeles Community college, not one semester has passed when I've not had one or several DACA receipients, whether student athletes or not.  They've all been serious students and determined to improve their and their families's lives, no matter what.  So, a MUCHSIMAS GRACIAS SRITA Ceja-Orozco, and Snor MIke Woitalla!!!

  2. David Ruder, January 17, 2020 at 11:57 p.m.

    The law is the law, illegal is illegal, no different than when a player is red carded and must leave the field.

  3. R2 Dad replied, January 18, 2020 at 1:52 a.m.

    DR, my understanding is that the law is not black and white, with state laws intervening and greatly complicating the process of law interpretation. Yes, ICE has the final word but some states/cities have created laws that confuse everyone. Immigration in 2020 is not like immigration in the 50's.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, January 18, 2020 at 7:20 a.m.

    David, for coaches and clubs it isn't an immigration status issue although that is a potential issue for immigrants in all aspects of their lives. That impact on others like clubs and coaches is real, but indirect.

    For USSF clubs, the direct issue is getting clearances to play. It isn't just immigrants, but military families returning from overseas assignments have the same paperwork hassle getting cleared to play. The clearnace is a FIFA thing, not a US immigration thing or a legal problem. A lot of families decide to go to an unaffilliated club to avoid the hassle. That is all I know. My last club warned coaches about the potential issue and had someone that handled the paperwork.

  5. Beau Dure, January 18, 2020 at 10:49 a.m.

    If an ICE agent were to show up at a practice I was running or a game I was reffing, he would be asked to leave. If he refused, I would call the police and the media. And I would shield any player or relative he tried to take away. 

    If someone wants to try to remove people who came here at the behest of American employers, go to court and then figure out a humane solution for kids who have grown up here. Don't come onto my soccer field and try to grab someone. I'm willing to stand up against tyranny.

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