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Melania Trump may have worked in the United States illegally (UPDATED)

Melania Trump, wife of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE
Melania Trump, wife of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to penalize and deport “illegal immigrants” living in the United States — but he may very well be married to one.

That’s because Melania Trump, who was born in Slovenia, may have worked illegally in the United States during the beginning of her career as a model in New York City, Politico reported this week.

Melania has said that she came to New York in 1996 on a modeling contract and a work visa. But nude photographs that surfaced this week, accounts from Slovenian journalists, and a former roommate all pinpoint her arrival date in 1995, leading to speculation that she may have actually worked in the country on a tourist visa.

Trump’s wife has suggested several times that she worked as a model on a short-term visa. She says she followed the law by traveling back to Slovenia “every few months” to renew her visa before getting her green card in 2001.

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“I follow a law the way it’s supposed to be,” Melania Trump told MSNBC in February. “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 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.”

“It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers. That is just the person you are,” she added in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “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.”

Other reports of Melania’s status indicate that she came to the country on a H-1B visa, a type of employment-based visa that is valid for a maximum of six years, with extensions in some instances. Writer Mickey Rapkin, who interviewed Melania for a May interview in the lifestyle magazine DuJour, told Politico that she “nodded in agreement” when he mentioned her H-1B visa.

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But that appears to contradict her previous statements about her short-term visa. If Melania had a H-1B visa, she would not have needed to go back to Slovenia every few months to renew it. In fact, as Politico pointed out, she would not even have needed to go back once between the time she arrived in New York in 1996 and the time she received her green card in 2001.

Melania’s personal website was scrubbed from the internet last week after news outlets raised questions about her undergraduate degree in architecture from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, which could matter “because a college degree can be an important credential for someone applying for a visa to work in the U.S.,” Bloomberg News reported. Particularly for the H-1B visa, the U.S. government generally requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree or higher degree or some equivalent to meet the minimum requirement for the position.

Her account of frequent renewals is more consistent with having a short-term visa — either a B-1 business visa or a B-2 tourist visa — which do not allow visa holders to legally work. Instead, these visas allow people to visit the United States for up to six months at a time, with a maximum total stay of one year on any one trip. On a B-1 visa, people can “consult with business associates, negotiate a contract, buy goods or materials, settle an estate, appear in a court trial, or participate in business or professional conventions or conferences,” according to a government website, but they cannot receive payment on either visa. The consequences of working while on a B1/B2 visa means that people could be less likely to receive another visa in the future.

“Melania followed all applicable laws and is now a proud citizen of the United States,” Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks told Politico, ignoring other inquiries about the timing and circumstances of Melania’s arrival in the United States.

The focus on Melania’s immigration status is relevant given that Trump has made stringent immigration policies into a signature priority since the launch of his campaign. Trump has said that he would build a border wall along the U.S. — Mexico border that he would force Mexico to finance, deport the country’s 11 million undocumented population — allowing some exceptions for “the really good ones,” triple the number of federal immigration agents to detain and arrest immigrants, and even give extra penalties to people who overstay their tourist visas.

If Melania had eventually switched over to a H-1B visa, she would still stand at odds with Trump’s policy positions. The GOP presidential nominee opposes the H-1B program, which he says he will “end forever” with “no exceptions” because he believes it is being used to replace American workers with cheaper, foreign labor.

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Assuming that Melania was unaware of that her tourist visa didn’t allow her to work, her story parallels an argument made by many undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children and are unaware that their immigration status could adversely affect their futures. Those people, known as DREAMers, often don’t know that they are undocumented until they apply for college or try to apply for their first government-issued identification card.

The same parallel can be drawn with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who denounced his Canadian citizenship in 2013, arguing that he didn’t know he was Canadian by birthright because he left Calgary when he was four and had “lived my entire life since then in the U.S.”

Update:

On Thursday morning, Melania Trump issued a statement on Twitter saying in part that she has “at all times been in full compliance with the immigration laws of this country. Period. Any allegation to the contrary is simply untrue.”

On Wednesday, September 14, Trump released a letter from a lawyer stating that she “correctly went through the legal process when arriving in the USA.”