Attorney Gus Shihab's Statement re Olympic Gold Medalist Natalia Laschenova Immigrant Visa Denial at Press Conference

USCIS and Administrative Appeals Office (“AAO”) both deny EB-1 Petition Filed by 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion Natalia Laschenova Stating that She is Not An Alien with Extraordinary Abilities

I was contacted by Columbus, Ohio Chanel 10 reporter a couple of ago about a story he was investigating on an Olympian Gold Medalist called Natalia Laschenova from Russia whose immigration status was denied by the USCIS. I called Natalia and I could not but believe that this is the same 14-year-old who shocked the world winning a Gold Medal in Seoul Korea in 1988 at the age of 14 (watch Video). After talking to Natalia, I was also shocked to learn about her plight with the USCIS which had been ongoing for 10 years now. I agreed to meet the reporter and he ran the following news piece (watch here).

Shortly after that, I met with Natalia and accepted her case. I requested her file from her prior counsel and reviewed about 400 pages of newspaper article after article all attest to Natalia’s impressive performance worldwide and technique. I also read many letters from other Olympian Gold Medalists who were coached by Natalia and they all attest to her extraordinary abilities. But the USCIS did not believe that and the AAO actually further affirmed the USCIS’s denial of her case.

After winning the Gold Medal in Seoul and other impressive international competitions, Natalia became the National Belarusian gymnastics coach. Natalia had entered the US on H-1B visa in 1999 as a gymnastics coach. She submitted an application for labor certification in the 2000 but due to ridiculous processing times, Natalia decided not to wait for the approval to come and changed her employer to afford her family a better opportunity. Then in 2002, Natalia submitted a petition arguing that she is an alien of extraordinary abilities. That petition was denied. Then again in 2007, Natalia submitted another petition with additional evidence desiring to be designated as an alien of extraordinary abilities, and again she was denied by the USCIS. Natalia then appealed her case to the Administrative appeals Office who affirmed the denial on January 12, 2010.

After the Channel 10 story and my interview, I was contacted by a Group called Reform Immigration for America who adopted Natalia and called on a press conference on March 15, 2010 to bring to light Natalia’s plight and to urge Congress to repair America’s broken immigration system. Below, please find my statement to the press on that day:

Attorney Gus M. Shihab’s statement at the March 15, 2010 press conference in Columbus, Ohio.

My name is Gus Shihab and I am immigration counsel for Natalia Laschenova.

NATALIA HAS PLAYED BY THE RULES FOR OVER A DECADE BUT OUR BROKEN SYSTEM PREVENTS HER FROM BECOMING AN AMERICAN CITIZEN. After 10 years since her arrival in the United States; after ten years of abiding by all applicable immigration laws and regulations; after 10 years of maintaining legal status in the US; after 10 years of submitting various applications and petitions of immigration of various kinds to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, Natalia Laschenova, an extraordinary athlete, Gold Medalist, and world champion, today is out of status along with her husband and their children and could face deportation.

NATALIA’S JOURNEY IS A SAD REMINDER OF OUR BROKEN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM. SHE HAS PLAYED BY THE RULES. Natalia Laschenova entered the United State legally with valid H-1B work visa in December 1999 to work as a Gymnastics Coach. Natalia Laschenova has played by the immigration rules, kept her end of the bargain as an immigrant, has continuously stayed in legal immigration status and abided by all applicable immigration laws and regulations. Natalia made certain that she worked legally in the US, contributed to our community, paid taxes, and raised her family.

USCIS’S DECISION DEFIES COMMON SENSE. The US Citizenship & Immigration Service denied Natalia’s immigrant petition 4 times arguing that Ms. Laschenova is not an alien with extraordinary abilities. I think we can all agree that winning a Gold medal in the field of gymnastic at the age of 14 requires a person to possess extraordinary abilities. She is an extraordinary coach.

NATALIA HAS COACHED WORLD AND OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS AND IS TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF AMERICAN GYMNASTS. Natalia coached other World Champions and Gold Medalists including Belarusian now US Citizen Svetlana Boginskaya who went on to win 17 Gold Medals, in Olympic, World and European Championships. Natalia also coached other extraordinary gymnasts including Elena Piskun who is also now a US Citizen. Elena won 2 Olympic Gold Medals.

NATALIA IS TAKING HER CASE TO COURT. Natalia Laschenova, her husband and children have exhausted all remedies available to them at law before the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services. Ms. Laschenova’s case was denied by the highest administrative office within the Immigration system. Ms. Laschenova and her family are considering filing an action for review in federal court to review the USCIS’ nonsensical denial.

NATALIAS CASE IS A DIRECT RESULT OF OUR BROKEN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM. Natalia’s story is one of thousands and thousands of other stories representing our severely broken and unfair immigration system. As an immigration lawyer with many years of experience, and as is clearly demonstrated here in Natalia’s story, our immigration system is wrought with severe backlogs, legal obstacles, unfairness and family division.

WE’RE CALLING ON CONGRESS TO REFORM THE BROKEN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM. I invite you all to join Natalia, her husband, her children and the other immigrants present in our nation whose voices have not been heard to call on Congress to reform our immigration laws. I have a letter here in my hand addressed to Senator Voinovich to Co-sponsor an immigration bill to reform immigration laws for America. We need a law that restores our long standing tradition of fairness to those who have demonstrably contributed to our communities.