As President Donald Trump continues to push for harsher immigration restrictions, some critics still have questions about how Melania Trump obtained her permanent residency.
The Washington Post published an article on Thursday noting the apparent disconnect between Melania’s credentials and the kind of green card she obtained.
The first lady, then known as Melania Knauss, was given a green card reserved for people with “extraordinary ability,” in 2001. The particular green card — an EB-1 — is intended to cater to individuals who have “sustained national and international acclaim,” and it is typically granted to well-known researchers, business executives, and others who have won high-profile awards.
The U.S. government issued over 1 million green cards in 2001. But only 3,376, fewer than 1 percent, were the venerated EB-1.
Former congressman Bruce Morrison hinted at the prestige of the award.
“We called it the Einstein visa,” Morrison said.
At the time, Melania had spots in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition and was featured on a Camel cigarette ad displayed in Times Square. While these were certainly high-profile accomplishments, Melania was not well-known in the fashion industry, according to the Post.
Immigration experts and lawyers interviewed in the article noted that the “extraordinary ability” standard is a subjective measure. But they seemed to agree that Melania’s achievements were not enough to elevate her to this status.
“What did she submit,” David Leopold, the former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, asked. “There are a lot of questions about how she procured entry into the United States.”
Before obtaining her EB-1 green card, the first lady received five H1-B visas, allowing her to work in the U.S. Trump has sharply decreased the number of H1-B visas granted as president, with government data showing that 50,000 fewer were approved in 2017 than in the prior year.
To an extent, it seems unnecessary to scrutinize how Melania gained her permanent residency 17 years after she did. But her husband's consistent focus on immigration policy and altering what he regards as lenient immigration restrictions has kept many aspects of the immigration debate in the spotlight.
As of now, questions about how Melania obtained her particular green card are largely speculation. But her trajectory through the immigration system nonetheless depicts the irony of Trump's immigration policy. The president is targeting the very programs that his wife benefited from before obtaining her permanent residency.