An Immigrant From Brazil Has Changed Lives as a Coach. Is That Enough to Stay in the U.S.?

Hicu Motta turned a group of working-class girls into first-class rowers. But immigration authorities rejected his bid for a green card.

Comments: 68

  1. Has the club set up a fund to help with legal fees? I’d donate. Rowing is so much more than a sport - it changes every athlete’s life. Has anyone heard of the book Boys in the Boat? I am so grateful for the years I spent rowing. It is unfair (and very short-sighted) that only the wealthy get this opportunity. Let us know!

  2. Agreed

  3. @Alicia I would donate too!

  4. @Alicia I just looked up the club (great website, btws) and there is a significant emphasis on higher education being a goal for the rowers. There is a donation link; maybe a donation could be earmarked towards that? Pull hard, Go fast, Have fun ( go Green Lake ;) )

  5. What a tragedy! I bet many in the Immigration service have the imagination to understand the impact this individual makes in the lives of the kids he coaches.

  6. What more does Mr Motta need to prove . If he gets one girl a scholarship to college and she is the first in her family to go to college and graduate, the he has proved his extraordinary ability.

  7. But if he cleaned toilets at Mar-a-Lago, he’d be able to stay.

  8. Am so sorry Immigration has denied a green card for Mr. Motta. This is all thanks to the current resident in the White House. Hopefully, a democratic president will take over the reins next year and ease restrictions on those like Mr. Motta who are more than worthy to remain in the U.S.

  9. No foreigner has an absolute right to live in the US or become a US citizen; those matters are governed by US law. Most Americans welcome LEGAL immigrants, but do not want ILLEGAL immigrants. They recognize that the US cannot afford (or chooses not) to support our own citizens: the poor, the ill, elderly, disabled, veterans, et al., and that they and other US taxpayers cannot possibly support the 20 million illegal immigrants already in the US, much less the hundreds of millions of foreigners who would like to come here. US laws allow foreigners to seek entry and citizenship. Those who do not follow these laws are in this country illegally and should be detained and deported; this is policy in other countries, too. The cruelty lies not in limiting legal immigration, or detaining and deporting illegal immigrants, or forcing those who wish to enter the US to wait for processing and abide by our immigration laws. What is cruel, unethical and probably illegal is encouraging parents to bring their children on the dangerous trek to US borders and teaching the parents how to game the system to enter the US by falsely claiming asylum, persecution, etc. Indeed, many believe bringing children on such perilous journeys constitutes child abuse. No other nation has open borders, nor should the US.

  10. @Mon Ray He has been here legally, so that is not the point of the article. As a person that has been through the process, it feels more like a lottery than a rational system. At one point our stay depended in one person, the man reading the paperwork in the consulate. He denied the visa, then realized he did a mistake reading the paperwork and gave us the visa. All in 5 minutes.

  11. Have you read the article or are you just spewing Republican talking points? This man is a LEGAL immigrant, trying to get a green card and despite the extraordinary ability to help AMERICANS, he’s still not able to get it and is being denied. You’d think that a 250 page document showing him helping kids go to college and develop self confidence for the future would be more than enough proof of how he’s helping the community and is needed. But unfortunately he’s from Latin America. And as we learn every day, our immigration system has a different set of rules for our neighbors south of the border.

  12. @Mon Ray Like the First Lady, who apparently came in on a tourist visa to work, then demonstrated “ extraordinary ability” at something to get her papers. Right?

  13. If the First Lady has “ extraordinary ability”, then this guy has it in spades. We should value extraordinary talent for teaching just as much as we do for looking good sitting around in you underwear.

  14. @Mark Thank goodness this critically important matter is going to be resolved not by opinion writers or other (mostly unqualified) individuals but by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will make its decision in this matter based on law and precedent, not on some fuzzy criteria such as “fairness” and “logic,” whose definition and applicability vary enormously depending on whose ox is getting gored. Let the Supreme Court do its job. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome, work to get Congress to pass laws and regulations that reflect your opinion. That’s the American way.

  15. @Mon Ray It used to be “the American way”, or at least the espoused aspiration. Now Congress is bought and sold by corporate interests, and personal prejudice and narrow partisan biases dominate the courts.

  16. @Mon Ray It's also the American Way to have a steady flow of immigrants. This is a nation of immigrants, unless you are Native American.

  17. When policies are made with the intent of keeping all people out, instead of welcoming good people in, our communities miss out. I hope he succeeds in obtaining permanent residency.

  18. Mr. Motta is exactly what our country needs. Someone who brings an extraordinary talent and gives to others. I’m sure, with his credentials, he could easily be coaching elite athletes elsewhere in this world. Instead, he is here and helping those to achieve more. The article does not mention any other program similar, because none exists. Sounds like he knows more about helping others achieve the American Dream than so-called natives. All of us came from somewhere else. While he may not be entirely altruistic (who is?), I’m sure he does so because he does want to live here - who of us cannot admit to the same?

  19. This shows how screwed up our immigration system is. Here is a person who is clearly - clearly - a benefit to our society, yet the bureaucrats require more paperwork to cover their backsides. Hopefully this article applies the necessary heat. Good luck Mr. Motta. Our country needs more people like you.

  20. The U.S. is lucky to have him here. Idiotic policies may well drive him away, to the detriment of many!

  21. he should have filed for a labor certificate and used this route to get a green card and not the "E" route which we know is reserved for pple like Melania T.

  22. Incredible!!! Somebody fix it!!!

  23. Now that it’s published the bureaucracy will be afraid to deviate from official positions. Political favors must be granted to be successful. Do a favor, get a favor all the way up the ladder. Or just be lucky and direct it at Trump who may just do a favor plus he will get a lot of points for doing it.

  24. Why, in today's world, is rowing considered a useful skill? He's likely a fine man, and I encourage immigration, but teaching rowing is a waste of effort for everyone involved. He's good with teenagers; could he not teach something useful, like language skills (Portuguese is close enough to Spanish that his native Portuguese could qualify him to teach Spanish)?

  25. @Jonathan Katz Thank you for posing this question as I expect there are others out there wondering the same thing. I was a competitive rower for 8 years (4 of which were in a D1 program) and went on to coach high school teams for 5 years. Rowing fundamentally changed my life and helped shape me into the capable, driven, confident individual who I am today. I can guarantee you that I am not the only rower you would hear articulate this. Crew is often referred to as the ultimate team sport. Unless you're rowing in a single, your success is intimately tied to the effort of your teammates. There are truly no stars in rowing. It requires sacrifice, compassion, critical thinking, and incredible dedication, among many other life skills. If these are not essential for developing a functioning and productive society, I don't know what is.

  26. @Jonathan Katz Here's some homework - Read Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat - Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and you will find your answer.

  27. @Jonathan Katz Dear Jonathan, As a past athlete for RowLA, I can gladly explain to you why rowing was so important to me, and all of the current girls on the team. I have played various kinds of sports throughout my life; I’ve tried soccer, dabbled in basketball, done competitive swimming as well as tried the Junior Lifeguards program. Rowing was not only the most strenuous sport I’ve ever experienced, but also the most mentally challenging. It transformed me completely–the sense being on a team that depends entirely upon one another has immensely impacted my social skills as a growing adult. It struck confidence within me, as well as a sense of purpose in this fast, confusing world. It made me, a girl who had never felt she had been good at anything at all, find peace knowing that I was for once talented at something. Coach Hicu was a great influence and inspiration for me, and I can only imagine how different I would be today if I had not worked under his guidance.

  28. I hope Coach Motta reads this comment. I will write to him @ RoWLA as well. Brother Motta. You are extraordinary. What you are doing for these black and brown kids is nothing short of that Mr Williams did for Serena and Venus and what Mr Earl Wood did for Tiger. I know how hard this immigration path is. Hang in there, if not for you but for the 100s of kids you have inspired and 100s more you are going to help.

  29. Glad these rules weren’t in place when my grandparents immigrated. My family would be dead in Russia. Remember Regan and the bright shiny city on a hill. Boy times sure have changed.

  30. He is being held to the standard applied to tenure-track full college professors! Good God!

  31. Obviously, this man does have “extraordinary ability to do his job.” Why is this even in question?

  32. My guess is if Mr. Motta displayed the same gifts with football players, we would not be having this conversation. Our country becomes more ridiculous each and every day. We're No. 1? God bless America.

  33. I’m so “extraordinarily” disgusted with this country. Seems like the game is rigged and the goal posts keep moving and the losers are ... again ... the good people of this country. So now ICE exists to protect us from hardened criminals and decent, humble coaches and their volunteer wives! It used to be clear to me why people wanted to live in America, but not anymore. Our values are no longer noble or true as you can see by the character in the White House we continue to protect. Lately, I’ve been reading and watching programs about G Washington and the American Revolution and I’m so struck by how different we are as people and how this country is no longer the beacon of humanity. If I had a choice, I’d keep Mr Motts in exchange for all the Senate Republicans (except M Romney) who have done real harm to our country. ICE can throw them out with all the murderers and drug lords they’re supposed to deporting.

  34. @Christine Davi I wonder if those who were enslaved and worked for free for 245 years or those who were nearly exterminated [Native Americans] would call America "the beacon of humanity"?

  35. I seen this first hand before; talented, dedicated and successful immigrants who are turned away. If helping poor girls get a jump start to college and beyond is not considered "extraordinary", then I don't know what is...

  36. Hi, A couple of observations: 1. There is a similar rowing program for girls here in NYC. If I am not mistaken I read about it in the NYT. 2. It amazes me in the year 2020 people still believe that merit, hard work and outstanding results are more important than perception(what people say about you when you are not in the room) and visibility (who you know and who knows you). Another words your network. Perhaps those responsible for the coach’s green card application will contact the “important” people, national, and local politicians, business elites and celebrities and ask for their endorsement. A good old fashion written letter campaign wouldn’t hurt either, attached to thousands of signatures from community people.

  37. As noted in the article, Mr. Motta’s application for a green card has been denied because he has failed to prove that he has “extraordinary ability to do a job that might otherwise go to an American.” The US will quickly destroy itself if it continues to give jobs to non-citizens in preference to US citizens.

  38. @Mon Ray It's not a zero-sum game. New arrivals do take jobs, but they also create jobs. The pie grows.

  39. @Mon Ray The U.S. doesn't give jobs to anyone, certainly not in this case. It is a particular employer who determined that this person was the best candidate for the job, and as other commenters have pointed out, is putting its money where its mouth is in terms of assistance with legal costs and such. Or do you believe that some distant bureaucrat is better qualified than RowLA to decide who is the best available rowing coach?

  40. @Mon Ray First of all just because he was denied does not mean he does not have the “extraordinary ability”. There are people who are less deserving than him and have received green cards. The whole system is biased for I depends on who gets your case and what they think. Also US citizens who are typically the employers may choose non citizens as employees for they are better workers or more experienced. If anything America would be destroyed without them because no one else other than people who want to stay here is willing to do literally work such as grueling farm work just to achieve a better life for them and their family.

  41. Who do you want to live here? People who are passionate about making their lives better and devoted to contributing to their communities? That sounds like immigrants to me. If someone want to come here so badly that they're willing to leave their homes, I welcome them.

  42. @David Liebtag If the criterion is only that they are willing to leave home, that would amount to billions of people in Asia and Africa who would move here.

  43. So paying $500,000 will get you a green card but a proven track record of successful training and improving the quality of life of young adults doesn't? If this isn't a clear example of what is wrong with the current immigration system I don't know what is.

  44. It is sad that we have to debate whether Mr. Motta has "extraordinary ability". He clearly does his job well and contributes to America. Do I not feel sympathy for any American who Mr. Motta might displace? Not much. Motta's students are also Americans and deserve the best. If his employer thought an American could do his job better, an American would have that job and his employer would not have to pay large legal and administrative fees fighting our visa system.

  45. Wow, if this coach is not a great example of what America should be about, who is? Okay, it sounds like some of his student athlete rowers might be also. I was fortunate to row in college and love the sport. But everyone involved can see it is too white and exclusive. (I’m a white guy. It’s obvious to me.) Not only does that mean that minorities are missing out, it means the sport isn’t as good as it could be. A bigger pool of developed talent is good for everyone. (A point that applies more generally.) I hope coach Motta is able to continue his work in the U.S. It would be an honor if he chose to stay long term and even became a citizen.

  46. @Eric C. Amen!

  47. The Green Card process is very convoluted, and it helps to have a good lawyer. It’s possible that Mr. Motta and RowLA were badly advised. I don’t think we got the full story here.

  48. @Global Charm I am an immigration lawyer. This article gives a very broad brush description of the process and Mr. Motta's application. But from what is written, this is a very straight forward case; not convoluted at all. Mr. Motta and his lawyers provided ample evidence of Mr. Motta's extraordinary ability and USCIS disagreed that he is extraordinary. I, personally, feel that USCIS should give the term "extraordinary" a more permissive reading to allow amazing immigrants like Mr. Motta to remain in our country. But USCIS uses an extremely narrow interpretation. Nothing mysterious going on here though as far as I can tell.

  49. I'm a mom of 4 boys. No family to help me. I don't make enough money and have a disabled son so USCIS said he cannot come here at all. I work in mortgage make $40,000 and have to make over $43,000 so I work 12 hour days and continue to hope I will one day qualify. I actually belong to a support group on Facebook. There are over 600 moms and 2,000 children living without dads in the USA at this time. Deportee Wives Club on Facebook and Family Reunification page.

  50. Come on up to Canada, Coach, we’d love to have you.

  51. “We don’t just focus on rowing performance; we’re developing student athletes,” said Mr. Motta The U.S has been lucky to have him here helping so many in need. What a record – and what a philosophy: “I try to make something special out of any girl who wants to give rowing a shot,” "The objective here is to get the girls on the right path, into college,” he said. “Rowing is a tool.” Classic idiotic policy applied without common sense may drive him away. $15,000 in legal expenses to date . . . 300-page application & additional 150 pages of documents, only to receive a denial in August. Too bad Motta lacks the “extraordinary ability’ of someone like Melania Trump and her compelling “Be Best’ philosophy. Melania clearly “proved that (s)he performed “in a leading or critical role for organizations or establishments that have a distinguished reputation,” she must have received a “major, internationally recognized prize or award”.

  52. The approach of Citizenship and Immigration Services is one of default refusal/denial, driven by the current socio-political racism, versus the "other", so prevalent in the current federal administration. You'd have to get past that in order to succeed in staying, even though you are contributing, earning and paying taxes.... But then, in reality, you just won't get past it.

  53. Just wondering ~ what is Melania Trump’s special talent that earned her a green card? Are we this shallow America? This coach deserves to be here based on what I’ve gathered from the article. Coach ~ from a D1 athlete’s mom ~ thank you for your tremendous to the team and most especially to those young women!

  54. Now this is a guy who is doing all the right things and should stay

  55. Beginning the story by discussing the social, economic, and immigration of the rowers biases the readers before the coach's issues are discussed. I'm not confident we have a full and balanced story, and that does not support granting chtizenship.

  56. Good people who benefit the country and follow the rules being rejected while we are forced to accept the hundreds of thousands coming and staying illegally every year and those currently manipulating the asylum system. If we actually had a functioning, enforced, rational system then Mr. Motta would stay. Instead its the normalizing of every man for himself lawless opportunism.

  57. @CNNNNC asylum seekers at are border are the issue. Doesn't matter if you come legally you can waste a ton of money and get booted.

  58. Mr. Motta embodies attributes that make the US great: Challenging young women to excel as confident athletes and students. He is helping them become life-long learners who will make a difference in their lives and communities. This would not be happening if Mr. Motta was training young women in an Ivy League school. We can take that to the bank!

  59. Making good athletes is not enough. He must create good people too. Sadly lacking in too many positions now, which is where America is failing.

  60. @bp It sounds like he is "creating" perhaps inspiring is a more apt word good, dedicated, driven people. He sounds amazing and RowLA sounds like a fantastic organization. I think the United States needs as many folks as it can get- from wherever- who have the patience, gifts and ability to be a positive point in the lives of young people. From this article it sounds like he is doing much more than simply making good athletes.

  61. @bp As one of the rowers on RowLA, I can assure you he is not only making good athletes but also creating good people too. He inspires me every single day, helping me gain confidence in myself, knowing that I can do anything I set my mind to. Before I met Hicu and RowLA, I spent most of my days at home in front of my computer. At RowLA with coach Hicu, not only does he teach us to become stronger physically, but mentally as well. I couldn’t even explain to you in the right words the extraordinary influence coach Hicu has on so many girls and what he has done for each and every one of us, changing our future to be the best it could ever be.

  62. where is William Safire when you need him? I waited a hour, a unusual length of time, to speak to an lawyer about the case of a immigrant.... Please, NYT, hire a linguist and a grammarian!!

  63. I am willing to make an exception for merit based immigration. How about every congressman sponsoring ten immigrants a year. They can decide the merits. We can vote them out of office if they mess up.

  64. Rowing coach? Sorry. No chance.

  65. Is a US citizen could the job then the application should be denied US jobs for US citizens

  66. Clearly he is an extraordinary rowing coach he took on a group of girls ,where anywhere else they would not be remotely considered and got them to the National Finals . This is not only in terms of what he did with them but what he could do in relation to being an inspiration for many other young students .. Now how many US coaches have done that before , and if they could why did they not do it ..?

  67. US rowing community, it's time gather around this story and help this coach stay! Rowing needs coaches like him and girls like RowLA. It's no longer and white, elite sport -- so can the rowing community gather forces to declare how extraordinary and important his accomplishment is? Getting a boat of prep school boys to nationals is not news -- building a rowing program in this community and getting to Youth Nationals? That's outstanding!

  68. What a wonderful story! Where can we send $ to support his efforts and to support the girls?