As her lawyer prepares for a court conference this week to review her immigration status, Olympic gold medalist Natalia Laschenova told IG she is hopeful but realistic in her latest step to legally remain in the U.S. and continue her coaching career.
World and Olympic champion Natalia Laschenova is fighting to stay in the United States
"Every year for at least the last six years, I have thought I had a good chance, and it's always been negative," she said. "So I can't say now what my chances are. It's not month-by-month. It's day-by-day."
A native of Latvia, Laschenova competed for the Soviet Union at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, where she won a team gold medal and finished fifth all-around. She won the all-around silver medal and another team gold at the 1989 world championships in Stuttgart.
Laschenova, who came to the U.S. with her family on Christmas Day 1999, had been employed since then as a coach at various gyms.
In January 2010, her latest employer, Integrity Gymnastics in Plain City, Ohio, received a notice from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that her petition for an employment-based immigrant visa was denied, reopened and denied again.
Attorney Gus M. Shihab of Shihab & Associates in Columbus, Ohio, offered his services to Laschenova after seeing a news report on her plight last year. Shihab will represent Laschenova at a conference in federal court that is scheduled for this week.
"The USCIS has rejected our offer to engage in a mediation to try to
settle this case," Shihab told IG. "The USCIS would like to move forward with a motion for summary judgment, meaning that there is no need for the law suit to continue and the court must make a decision based on the evidence already available in the prior filing that Natalia had previously submitted. We also intend to file a motion for summary judgment as well, on the same basis, more importantly on Natalia's one-time life achievement, i.e., her Olympic gold medal."
Laschenova said she is frustrated by the failure of her previous attorney to renew her visa in 2007, an oversight that led to her legal problems. She subsequently received work authorization that was later denied.
"They said it's not enough of an excuse why I'm without a visa since 2007," Laschenova said. "My current lawyer explained to them that it's not my fault. I paid my former lawyer. She promised me she would do everything and I would have a green card. It makes no sense to me that, in 2008, they gave me work authorization, and, in 2010, they denied everything that I had."
Following Shihab's meeting in court, he said the judge will make a decision as to whether Laschenova's green card application should be approved.
Laschenova said the process of securing the right to legally remain and work in the U.S. continues to be an uneasy challenge.
"Some days you just need to be brave," she told IG. "The bridge is gone and I don't have another step. But the next morning I wake up and I say, 'I can see another step.' And I just walk. I don't know where I'm going, but at least it's somewhere."