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Melania Trump seeks to clarify her immigration story, but doesn't show proof

Mrs. Trump published a letter from a lawyer saying she legally obtained her work visa and then her residency, but didn't provide any documentation from the immigration process.
14 Sep 2016 – 10:39 PM EDT
Melania Trump Crédito: Getty Images

Breaking two months of silence about her immigration story, Melania Trump published a letter Tuesday from one of Donald Trump's lawyers that assured she arrived to the United States legally. But she did not include proof of the documents submitted to immigration authorities to become a resident and a citizen. The letter was written by attorney Michael J. Wildes, who worked as a corporate lawyer for Donald Trump.

Mrs. Trump first faced scrutiny about her legal status in July, when The New York Post published photos that seemed to indicate she worked as a model in the U.S. without a proper visa.

Wildes says that media reports that have called into question her immigration story "are not supported by the record." He says that Mrs. Trump sponsored herself as a model of "extraordinary ability" in 2000.

According to the attorney, Mrs. Trump was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident on March 19, 2001. She then obtained citizenship in 2006, after five years of continuous permanent residence, he added.

In the letter, which addresses Mrs. Trump's silence about her immigration story, Wildes contradicts his August 2016 statement to Univision, in which he said she received her green card in 2001 "based on marriage.'' She married Donald Trump in 2005. After a media uproar, Wildes said he would seek a precise explanation, but later said he couldn't provide one, writing to reporters in an email: "They didn't answer me, sorry.''

Irving Gonzalez, a Miami-based immigration attorney, says it's normal for applicants to do their own paperwork in case something happens with the sponsoring company. "My impression about her work visas, at least what the letter says, is that everything is totally correct ... [there's] nothing out of the ordinary," he says.

But it remains to be seen what kind of documents Mrs. Trump submitted to immigration authorities, he cautions.

"The letter has more questions than answers," says David Leopold, a well-known immigration attorney. "It refers to 'documentation'. Why don't they release the documentation so it can be publicly examined?"

Cargando galería

In his letter, Wildes explains that the Slovenian model first entered the U.S. on August 27, 1996, with a B-1/B-2 tourist visa. Under that visa, she would not have been permitted to take professional photos.

Wildes explains that Trump obtained an H-1 work visa two months after getting her tourist visa. In certain countries the H1-B visa lasts three years, but "this was not the case for Mrs. Trump," who used five H1-B visas between October 1996 and 2001, he says.

The lawyer also noted that the photo shoot in question took place in 1996, after she was given a work visa.

Immigration attorney Alex Galves tells Univision that Wildes' letter casts further doubt on how Melania got her residency.

"I consulted with a group of lawyers and we were surprised how much detail was given about the H1-B and the dates, but it skips over the procedure for obtaining the 'extraodinary ability' visa and residency," he says.

There are three ways Mrs. Trump could have received her status, Galves says. First, there's an EB-1 "extraordinary ability" visa, in which she'd have to prove she'd worked as a successful model on many magazine covers and won major awards.

To get an extraordinary abilities visa, the applicant must be among the top 1 to 5% of professionals in their field, among other things, Galves says.

It could also have been an O-1 "extraordinary ability" visa through a sponsor, or lastly, through marriage.

Univision analyzed Melania's modeling achievements through interviews with representatives of magazines for which she and her former agent Paolo Zampolli said she worked. Univision also accessed information on the former model's now deleted website.

According to the site, when she became a permanent resident in 2001, she had appeared on the covers of just three magazines. She was featured on the cover of the August 1997 issue of Harper's Bazaar in Spanish, and on the cover of Miami's Ocean Drive magazine in 1999 in an article about her relationship with Trump. She also made the cover of GQ magazine in 2000, in a photo shoot aboard Trump's airplane.

The model also appeared in a lingerie ad in Delicates magazine in 2000, as well as an article in Sports Illustrated in the winter of 2000.

Univision Investiga's Peniley Ramírez contributed to this report.