I cringed this morning when I read this story in Politico which pretty clearly demonstrated that Melania Trump was an undocumented worker for years when she began her modeling career in the US in the mid-90s. I say I cringed not because there’s anything wrong with the piece but because we too were working on it back in February and March and had it pretty well nailed. The hold up was that there was at least one theoretically possible way she could have been legal that we couldn’t definitively rule out since the Trumps’ of course were not going to answer any questions or provide any of her immigrants papers. The irony in all of this is that the evidence against Trump comes almost entirely from her own mouth, specifically a January interview she gave to Harper’s Bazaar and a subsequent TV interview with Mika Brzezinski in which she explained that she was nothing like those awful ‘illegals’ her husband wants to expel en masse.
The key is this passage in that interview …
“I came here for my career, and I did so well, I moved here. It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers. That is just the person you are. You follow the rules. You follow the law. Every few months you need to fly back to Europe and stamp your visa. After a few visas, I applied for a green card and got it in 2001. After the green card, I applied for citizenship. And it was a long process.”
None of our readers seem to have read that profile – or at least they didn’t make the connection and tell us. But at least two did see her subsequent late February interview with Mika Brzezinski in which she made essentially the same claims.
“I followed the law. I never thought to stay here without papers. I had a visa, I traveled every few months back to the country to Slovenia to stamp the visa. I came back, I applied for the green card, I applied for the citizenship later on after many years of green card. So I went by system, I went by the law. And you should do that, you should not just say let me stay here and whatever happens, happens.”
The irony here is that Melania lays it on rather thick about how she’s nothing like the people her husband wants to boot out of the country. Let’s call it her ‘I was legit white immigrant’ tour.
Here’s the problem, as both TPM Readers JSK (immigrant) and PG (immigration lawyer) noted to us in emails: the set of circumstances Melania describes makes it almost certain that she was in the US on travel/visitor visas rather than a work visa. If you’re on a work visa you don’t have to keep traveling back and forth to get your visa renewed. (The Politico article goes through the technical names for these different kinds of visas.)
There is a possible exception: very high profile athletes and models can get a kind of visa which allows them to visit the country and work for a short period of time. But Melania wasn’t in that echelon at all. She was one of many models trying to get a start in the business doing mainly catalog work.
The upshot is that Melania was almost certainly working in the US illegally. And every time she returned to the country and passed through immigration she would have had to have committed fraud by saying she in the US to visit rather than work.
In theory this would make her subsequent Green Card and even citizenship suspect, based on visa fraud earlier in the process.
It is only fair to say that based on our reporting this sort of illegal work was rife in the modeling industry at the time. This wouldn’t have made her a particularly egregious example. But then few of those women are now married to a man who wants a zero tolerance policy that would lead to the expulsion of 3% of the current US population.
So if you’re inclined to snark, Trump’s third wife was an ‘illegal’. Even her status in the country today could, in theory, be suspect.