Donald Trump, you may have heard, is no fan of illegal immigration. The GOP nominee has promised to go to incredible—some might say, impossible—lengths to stop it, from building a Mexican-funded wall along our Southern border to rounding up and deporting the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. Which is why a new report from Politico suggesting Trump’s own wife may have run afoul of U.S. immigration law is pretty noteworthy.
The piece runs under the headline, “Gaps in Melania Trump’s Immigration Story Raise Questions,” but Politico has an answer too: Melania Trump’s description of her first years in the United States simply doesn’t line up with the available evidence. It appears that either: a) She violated U.S. immigration law by working as a model in New York City while on a temporary visitor visa in the mid-’90s, or b) She had a visa that allowed her to work, which meant she never had to return regularly to her native Slovenia as she has publicly claimed on multiple occasions as a way to show that she, unlike the millions her husband wants out, did things by the book.
Team Trump has declined to explain the rather large holes in Melania’s story, much the same way it failed to address recent reports that she did not actually graduate from a Slovenia college as she claimed on her website. Instead, a campaign spokeswoman said simply of the latest controversy, “Melania followed all applicable laws and is now a proud citizen of the United States,” while Trump issued her own statement with more words but scarcely more detail after the report was published:
In the past, Melania has gone into somewhat greater detail when discussing her arrival in the country. Here is how she told her story to Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski during a February interview: “I never thought to stay here without papers. I had [a] visa. I travel 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.” (She told a similar version to Harper’s Bazaar for a profile that ran the month before.)
The problem, though, is that as Politico explains, that doesn’t make sense if she was also working legally in the United States at the time:
Trump’s tale of returning to Europe for periodic visa renewals is inconsistent with her holding an H-1B visa at all times she was living in New York—even if it was the lesser-known H-1B visa specifically designed for models—said multiple immigration attorneys and experts. An H-1B visa can be valid for three years and can be extended up to six years—sometimes longer—and would not require renewals in Europe every few months. If, as she has said, Trump came to New York in 1996 and obtained a green card in 2001, she likely would not have had to return to Europe even once to renew an H-1B.
Instead, Trump’s description of her periodic renewals in Europe are more consistent with someone traveling on a B-1 Temporary Business Visitor or B-2 Tourist Visa, which typically last only up to six months and do not permit employment.
The second discrepancy Politico found in Melania’s immigration tale is when, exactly, she arrived in the United States in the first place. She and her husband say she moved to the country in 1996, but that conflicts with available evidence that suggests she actually came the year before: the nude photos of Melania that the New York Post splashed on its cover last week were reportedly taken in New York City in 1995 for a since-shuttered French magazine; a Melania biography published this year by two Slovenian authors also puts her in the city in 1995; as does Melania’s first roommate in New York, who spoke with Politico for its story. Even if Melania were not yet living in the United States permanently during the time of the photo shoot, she would have still needed some sort of work visa to keep it above board, according to immigration experts.
This story, though, isn’t really about Melania. If she did violate the law, knowingly or not, to get her start in the country, she’s no different than the millions of other hard-working and well-meaning immigrants who have done the same thing. That her husband has built his campaign on railing against these immigrants—by spewing hate and spreading lies about foreigners flooding across our borders to do us physical and economic harm—that’s the story. It’s not that Melania did anything so wrong. It’s that her husband has spent the past year assailing people whose actions are probably a lot like his wife’s.