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Immigration, Sports, and Resistance: An Interview with Carlos Borja

After Carlos Borja built an award-winning track team, he was fired for refusing to oust his assistant coach, who was undocumented.

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“No, we’ll talk on Monday.”

So, we went to the biggest invitational in Arizona and then Monday’s when he gets rid of me.

Ochoa: What do you think was driving the athletic director’s actions?

Borja: I really don’t have any idea. The athletic director was also Hispanic, and he did mention, “Me and you are alike.”

I said: “Me and you have nothing in common. Just because you’re brown and I’m brown does not make us alike. I fight for kids who don’t have anything. I look out for them. You don’t. So, don’t tell me that we’re alike. You’re the one who started this whole thing. If you would have not pushed beyond what you’re supposed to, things would have been fine. There was no crime being committed.”

Ochoa: How did the students and parents respond when you were fired?

Borja: The minute I got fired, the athletic director called the boys in for a meeting and told them that I was no longer their coach and that he had a coach for them already. The boys texted me and we met at my house.

I told them, “I can’t coach you guys unless something happens.”

The boys said, “Coach, we’re not going to run without you. We don’t care about the state meet. We care about our coaches.”

“It’s not fair that we’ve come this far and you guys lose the state championship because of me. There’s no point for you guys to back off.”

“No, no, no. We’re all family, and it’s either all or nothing.”

Then they asked, “What if our parents get together?”

“Go ahead. I know we’re a small group, but it doesn’t hurt.”

A group of about six parents went to the office, and the principal said, “I don’t have time for you guys. If your kids don’t want to run then they won’t run.”

That’s when the parents asked me, “Well, what else can we do?”

I said, “It’s getting to the point that you guys don’t have power, and I don’t have power, so let’s get more people involved.”

They had just done an article on these boys being the top team in the state. So I called the Arizona Republic reporter: “Can you run a story about these boys?” He ran the story and that hit the school and the district. The district investigated why I was let go, and it took them two weeks to reinstate me as their coach. I think it was the pressure of parents and the media because La Voz, the Arizona Republic, and Univision were involved. That’s when everybody said, “We’ve got to get those boys to compete.” So, then they hired me back, and we went on and won the state championship.

Ochoa: What happened to Coach Miguel?

Borja: He was deported. He was incarcerated because he ran a stop sign and then he didn’t have papers. He was in jail for about a month. His lawyer fought to buy him some time. But we knew it was a tough case because he only had his grandmother here. He wasn’t married; he didn’t have kids. I guess that made it easy for them to say, “You really don’t have anything that can keep you here.”

The last time I talked to him, I thanked him for everything. He helped me and helped these boys. It wasn’t just a cross-country friendship; it was a lifelong friendship that we had. We ran together in high school and college. Right now, he’s in Guanajuato, Mexico. He said that he hopes he gets an opportunity to come back because he doesn’t know that life over there.