The intense media focus and scrutiny on Melania Trump's immigration status in the 1990s brings up a good point that Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee and Melania's husband, doesn't seem to realize: Immigration is not the easy black-and-white issue he'd have us believe.
Here's the story: Melania has said multiple times that while working as a model in New York City she had to fly back to Europe "and stamp your visa." Experts that Politico spoke to say the type of visa Melania must have had that required such frequent trips back to Europe must not have been a work visa. We don't know for sure because the campaign isn't releasing details (maybe they can't track them down, or maybe Melania doesn't remember specifics).
Even if you assume everything in the Politico article is correct and Melania must have had a travel visa – meaning it was illegal for her to work in the U.S. as a model – she could just as easily be more a victim of unscrupulous modeling agencies than a person determined to work in the U.S. illegally.
"Violations of U.S. visa law are hardly unusual, particularly in the modeling industry," wrote Ben Schreckinger and Gabriel Debenedetti. "It was a common practice in the 1990s in New York for less scrupulous agencies to bring in foreign models to work illegally on temporary business and tourist visas, according to Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance, a group that advocates improved labor standards for fashion models."
This still doesn't excuse the fact that, according to Donald's rhetoric, Melania would have been deported in a Trump administration. Or, if she had the proper H-1B work visa, stopped from entering the country altogether so that an American model would have gotten the job.
The media seems to be trying to bait Donald into saying that if he had been president in the 90s, Melania would never have been allowed into the country. They're also trying to have a "gotcha" moment by explaining to him he never would have met his third wife if we followed his immigration plan.
On that last point, there may be a learning experience for Trump. Immigration is an individual experience, and there are many, many people who don't fit into the category of "knowingly crossed the border illegally with no intention of going through the proper channels."
Melania's case highlights some of the problems in the legal immigration process. Melania may have had no intention of breaking the law, but the process is so confusing and unreasonable (especially for someone with limited English proficiency) that many people break the law, whether knowingly or from ignorance.
Moreover, the current legal immigration quotas are often unreasonably small. The government caps the total number of visas for legal permanent workers and their families at just 140,000 per year, and requires applicants and the companies that might hire them to jump through many bureaucratic hoops. This is itself a major cause of illegal immigrant labor by people in trades like Melania's.
Learning more about how legal immigration works might be good for Trump. It could have helped shape his immigration stance in a way more palatable for a larger percentage of the country, although that could have also blunted his appeal in the primaries.
Ashe Schow is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.