Athletes, Citizenship, and The New York Times

By Noah Davis 

In Sunday’s The New York Times, Alison Gregor tells the tale of Erick De Leon, a Mexican-born, Detroit-based boxer who’s racing to get his citizenship so he can compete for the United States in the 2012 Olympics. The 18 year old moved here 12 years ago, but his parents never went through the citizenship process because of the hassle. This is a problem now that the hopes of USA Boxing rest upon De Leon’s shoulders.

The lack of citizenship did not hold back De Leon as he won the national Police Athletic League championship in the 132-pound weight class in 2009, along with the national Golden Gloves titles in 2009 and 2010. But in an Olympic qualifying year, noncitizens are prohibited from fighting in national championships.

De Leon hasn’t lost to anyone in the U.S. in his weight class for three years, and USA Boxing is racing to help him expedite the citizenship process. If he can’t get his papers by the end of the year, he could represent Mexico during the London Olympics.

“He’s a talent; he’s a prospect; he’s 18 years old, and he’s doing great things,” Ed Weichers, a coach with USA Boxing, told the Times. “My comment to him was, I just didn’t want to see him represent Mexico, or wear a Mexican uniform. I wanted to see him wearing the red, white and blue colors.”

De Leon’s story is one to follow. As international competitions loosen their requirements – Qatar has been known to essentially buy athletes who will compete under their flag – there are going to be more and more cases like his. But will the U.S. government help by speeding up the citizenship process? The answer will at least partially determine the success of the U.S. Olympics program in years to come.