Comments made by Melania Trump rejecting undocumented immigration and putting herself forward as an example of those who follow the law have raised suspicion about her own legal status during the early years of her modelling career in the United States, according to lawyers interviewed by Univision’s Investigative Unit.
Doubts arose after the wife of the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, told Harper's Bazaar magazine that in the mid-nineties she held a visa that had to be renewed every few months.
"I came here for my career, and I did so well, I moved here. It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers,” she told the magazine in an article titled 'Melania Trump’s American Dream.'
“That is just the person you are. 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. After the green card, I applied for citizenship. And it was a long process," she said.
Although she did not specify what type of visa it was, her words indicated it was a tourist visa, according to immigration lawyers consulted by Univision.
"My impression is that, although Melania doesn’t say exactly what type of visa she was traveling on, I think that because she had to travel so frequently to her country she was probably traveling with a tourist visa, a B1/B2 during this time," said Annaluisa Padilla, a member of the American Association of Immigration Lawyers.
Although a tourist visa does not allow the bearer to work in the United States, a series of nude photographs of Trump emerged last week which were taken in New York in 1995.
Melania Trump has said she came to the United States in 1996 under the sponsorship of an American Italian billionaire, Paolo Zampolli, who ran a modeling firm in New York and later was involved in some of Donald Trump’s real estate projects. Univision contacted Zampolli and he said he remembered bringing her on an H1B visa, adding that in those days it was simple to obtain. In the case of Melania Trump it was easy due to her strong portfolio, he added.
The Trump election campaign did not answer questions sent by Univision regarding certain aspects of the hitherto fragmented immigration history of his wife.
In a statement, Trump said his wife had followed immigration laws "at all times."
Melania Trump has yet to clarify what type of visa she used during a 1995 photo shoot in New York, or what type of visas she has held, and when she obtained them.
The Republican candidate has made immigration one of his main campaign issues. Trump has made constant references to deporting all undocumented immigrants and building a large wall along the border with Mexico to keep them out.
Lawyer Michael Wildes, who has represented several models with the Trump Model Management firm, said he could not comment. Several lawyers consulted by Univision pointed out that a work visa does not require renewals with the frequency indicated by Melania Trump.
"A work visa is granted for a fairly long period, usually for three years,'' Padilla said. "The most frequently used is the H1B, or H3B in the case of Melania if she was working as a model, and is granted for three years. And once granted there is no need to leave the country to renew it,'' he added.
Melania Trump obtained permanent residency (a green card) in 2001 but did not say whether it was through a company that sponsored her, or through marriage.
She met Trump met in 1998 and married him in 2005. In 2006 she became a U.S. citizen and in October of that year registered to vote.
The mystery surrounding Melania’s immigration process raises many questions among immigration lawyers, Padilla said.
"How is that she came to this country, how did she get her residency,” he said. “She leaves open the possibility that she didn’t follow a proper procedure, a possibility of fraud.”