Inconsistencies Call Melania Trump's Immigration Story Into Question

Aug 5, 2016
Originally published on August 5, 2016 7:00 pm
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Donald Trump's presidential campaign has been getting a lot of questions about his wife this week. Reports by Politico, Bloomberg and other news outlets have raised inconsistencies in Melania Trump's immigration story. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has more.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Melania Trump posted on Twitter this week, I have at all times been in full compliance with the immigration laws of this country. It's the same message she told MSNBC in February.

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MELANIA TRUMP: I never thought to stay here without papers. I had visa. I travel every few months back to the country, to Slovenia, to stamp the visa. I came back. I apply for the green card.

WANG: Trump said she first arrived in New York City to model in 1996. But Michael Felix, an immigration attorney who specializes in the fashion industry, says if you're a foreign model with a work visa, it's unusual to have to return to your home country that frequently.

MICHAEL FELIX: That would be a very uncommon situation because having to go back to your country every few months is extremely inconsistent with what a work visa has in mind.

WANG: Melania Trump has not said what kind of visa she had, and her husband's campaign did not respond to NPR's inquiries before broadcast. But Felix and other immigration attorneys say it's possible Trump was doing what a lot of models do - working illegally on a tourist visa. Another inconsistency is timing. The New York Post recently published photos of Trump that the paper reported were shot in New York City in 1995, a year before she says she arrived in the U.S. But the photographer, Jarl Ale de Basseville, now tells NPR that the photo shoot took place in 1996.

PHOTOGRAPHER JARL ALEXANDRE ALE DE BASSEVILLE: She was not paid because all the magazines don't pay. You know, and at this time, the only ways to be known is to make magazine.

WANG: He adds many models starting off in the industry work for free in exchange for more exposure. Still, Anastasia Tonello, an attorney with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says if Trump was on a tourist visa, modeling for free may have still broken the law.

ATTORNEY ANASTASIA TONELLO: You know, if you're coming in and doing a photo shoot, and just because the company's not paying you doesn't mean that wasn't work.

WANG: The fact that Melania Trump has been a naturalized U.S. citizen for more than a decade says it all for Michael Wildes. He's an attorney who has done immigration work for Donald Trump's Miss Universe pageant.

MICHAEL WILDES: Immigration had every opportunity to stop Melania and anybody else that they wanted. And there's no adverse information here to believe that anything untoward was done.

WANG: Melania Trump's immigration history shows just how complicated the U.S. immigration system can be, according to Stephen Yale-Loehr. He's an immigration law professor at Cornell University. And the scrutiny, he says, could end with some documentation.

STEPHEN YALE-LOEHR: Donald Trump has made illegal immigration the centerpiece of his campaign. And even after President Obama said that he had been born in the United States, Donald Trump demanded to see written proof of that birth certificate. So I think what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

WANG: And in this case, the sauce could be the visas in Melania Trump's passport. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.