As Donald Trump’s campaign has pushed back on reports raising questions about Melania Trump’s immigration status during her early modeling career in the United States, former models employed by the GOP nominee’s own Trump Model Management say the agency knew they were working in the country in the mid-2000s without proper visas, according to a report out Tuesday from Mother Jones.
The report is based on the account of Rachel Blais, a former Trump model who provided Mother Jones with documentation to back up her account, and a couple other, anonymous former Trump models who described similar experiences of working in the states without the proper documentation. The accounts of the anonymous models also were bolstered by legal filings.
Blais told the magazine she arrived in New York from Montreal in April 2004 and worked for months in the United States under Trump Model Management without the required work visa. In that six-month period, Blais said she appeared on an episode of NBC’s “The Apprentice” while performing other modeling gigs for the agency. Only in September 2004 was she granted a H1B3 visa, according to a letter from an immigration lawyer provided to Mother Jones.
Blais and the other models said that they often traveled to and from Europe while working for Trump’s agency without the proper work visa, and that their employer encouraged them to lie to immigration officials.
“When you’re stuck at immigration, say that you’re coming as a tourist. If they go through your luggage and they find your portfolio, tell them that you’re going there to look for an agent,” one anonymous model the magazine dubbed as Kate recounted being told.
Additionally, the models described the “sweatshop”-like conditions, in Kate’s words, where they lived. In their accounts, Trump’s agency put them up in tiny apartments crammed with people and docked rent charges from their wages that were well above the contemporaneous market rent rates.
Industry experts told Mother Jones that such practices were commonplace at the time.
Questions have been raised about Melania Trump’s own accounts of her immigration status when she was working in the United States in the mid-1990s, although she has denied breaking any laws. Melania Trump had been working for another New York modeling agency (Trump Model Management was founded in 1999), but she eventually did a short stint at her now-husband’s agency, the Mother Jones report said.
Trump Model Management did not answer a detailed list of questions sent by Mother Jones, nor did the agency respond to multiple phone calls and email requests for comment, according to the report. Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks also did not answer Mother Jones’ questions, telling the outlet, “That has nothing to do with me or the campaign.”