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Foreign sports figures looking to score points with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service often turn to Steve Ladik, who has built a national reputation as the lawyer to call when an athlete needs help getting that all important so-called green card. “I wouldn’t go to anybody else,” Rocky Hambric, owner of Hambric Sport Management in Dallas, says of Ladik. “If you need any help with visas, he’s your man — at least with golfers,” says Paul Galli, an Australian attorney-turned-sports-agent, who obtained a visa for himself and his wife with Ladik’s help and now lives part time in Scottsdale, Ariz. Galli, president of ProSport Management in Scottsdale, says Ladik is well known on the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour for helping foreign golfers. “It’s now to the point that I get calls from at least three professional golfers a week. I’m opening files almost every day on these guys,” says Ladik, a shareholder in the Dallas office of Jenkens & Gilchrist. Although Ladik says that probably no more than 2 percent of his practice involves working on foreign sports figures’ immigration cases, the work provides at least 20 percent of the pleasure he takes in his job. His group’s clients range from foreign golfers on the PGA Tour to racecar drivers brought to this country by Championship Auto Racing Teams Inc. “It’s a very refreshing break in the day-to-day routine to have one of these folks call you and then be able to work on putting together their case,” he says. The 49-year-old Ladik also has been active on other fronts. As president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, he has spoken out on the need for immigration reforms. When he began his term as AILA president in June 2001, immigration lawyers were “euphoric” about the changes taking place, Ladik says. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox were working together to produce an accord on immigration matters. Fox was urging the United States to adopt a graduated amnesty program for millions of Mexicans living in this country illegally. Then came Sept. 11. Efforts to reach an agreement were shifted to a back burner after the terrorist attacks in this country. But Ladik says recent events show “how deep immigration roots go” in this country. Bush and Fox finalized an action plan between the two countries when Bush visited Mexico in early April this year, Ladik noted during his April 16 testimony to the U.S. Senate Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Ladik, who appeared before the subcommittee representing the AILA, urged the panel to pass immigration reforms to strengthen U.S.-Mexico relations. The 9-11 attacks caused a re-examination of all procedures for admitting people to this country, Ladik says. “But the fundamental concept of the benefit immigrants have to our country hasn’t been dampened by 9-11,” he says. EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY Ladik, whose term as president ends on June 12 at the AILA’s annual conference in San Francisco, says his first experience in handling immigration matters for athletes came after he graduated from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in 1983 and began working in the Dallas office of the firm known then as Gardere & Wynne. He says the firm represented the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who also owned the Dallas Sidekicks, and the basketball team’s management called seeking help in getting work visas for two German players, Detlef Schrempf and Uwe Blab. Ladik particularly recalls the times when Blab would visit the firm’s offices. Blab, who stood about 7 feet 2 inches, would show up wearing a T-shirt, cutoff shorts and rubber sandals, he says. “I would reach up [to shake his hand] and his hand would totally engulf my hand. He’d actually have to duck under the entry way into the hallway. With me standing at 5 foot 8 inches next to a 7-foot-2 NBA center, I felt like singing, ‘Follow the yellow-brick road.’” But it was Ladik’s work for players in the PGA that would gain him the attention of foreign athletes and their agents. Hambric says he learned about Ladik’s expertise in handling immigration matters when the Dallas attorney worked out a problem that PGA golfer David Frost, a South African, had with his visa. “Frost was using a lawyer who didn’t know what he was doing, and I told him, ‘We’ve got to get a pro here,’” Hambric says. The pro turned out to be Ladik, who says that he was able to get Frost a green card as an alien with extraordinary ability in athletics. “Of the many different types of green cards, the most difficult category with the highest standard of proof is that reserved for aliens of extraordinary ability,” Ladik says. Ladik says that Frost spread the word, and a number of other South African golfers and their caddies began calling him and telling their South African friends in the tennis world to call as well. In 1992, Ladik represented golfer Nick Price — a Zimbabwe native who was among the top money winners on the PGA tour at the time — in an INS case that set the standard for deciding who is an alien of extraordinary ability for immigration purposes. In In Matter of Price, the INS held that the term “extraordinary ability” as used in the Immigration and Nationality Act means “a level of expertise indicating that the individual is one of that small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.” The ruling, known as an “interim decision,” also establishes the evidence that immigrants must provide to show they have sustained national acclaim in their field of expertise. “It was nice to have my name associated with that,” Ladik says of the decision. “It also led to my reputation spreading more through my professional colleagues in that area.” The PGA tour has retained him, Ladik says, and every new player who comes from the European tour and foreign athletes seeking to turn professional after attending college in the United States are advised to call him. Ladik says he bills the PGA when he provides golfers general advice and bills the players separately if he works on their cases. However, Hambric says golfers turn to Ladik for help not only because he knows the ins and outs of immigration law but also because he understands golf. “I can talk to him in golf terms and he knows what I’m talking about,” says the Dallas sports agent. Ladik says that at any one time, he may be handling at least five immigration cases for PGA players. He estimates that he’s represented about 25 PGA players over the years, including Fiji native Vijay Singh, winner of the Masters Tournament in 2000. Foreign tennis players also have sought Ladik’s help in getting visas. Ladik says Bryon Talbot and Christo van Rensburg, who play doubles tennis, invited him to the Czech Open in Prague one year and told everyone he was their “coach” after his work resulted in them being granted permanent residence as aliens of extraordinary ability. Ladik says immigrants can be classified as having extraordinary abilities if they have gained fame in a subset of their field, such as doubles tennis. While Ladik says he enjoys working on immigration matters for foreign athletes, he admits there are frustrations. Ladik says it’s not unusual for him to receive a phone call from a promoter who has a sports event scheduled within a few days but can’t get an athlete into the country. “That’s the most difficult thing, when you feel the pressure to get it done because they have to be at this event,” he says. But assisting people with immigration problems has its rewards. Notes Ladik, “You get thanks from people for years to come because you’re affecting their families.”

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