Immigration, hypocrisy, and Melania Trump

Tensions in an increasingly globalised world

Politico has a new report on some questions about Melania Trump’s immigration status. Ms. Trump is a Slovenian immigrant to the United States, and it appears that, in the 1990s, she may have entered the United States with the intention to work, but without the proper visa. Needless to say, this would have required lying to border agents about why she was entering the United States. This doesn’t look good for the wife of a person whose main campaign issue is fighting the scourge of illegal immigration.

As Politico puts it,

“If someone were to enter the United States on one of those visas with the intention of working, it could constitute visa fraud, according to Andrew Greenfield, a partner at the Washington office of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, a firm that specializes in immigration law.”
Image credit KangZeLiu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My first reaction was probably like many others who read the piece: schadenfreude. But after a moment’s reflection, I realized that as an academic, I work in a field that is as global as modelling, Ms. Trump’s profession (actually, I work in modelling too, but a different kind of modelling…). Academics often receive honorariums for speaking engagements all over the world. These honorariums may be to help pay for travel (a flat fee is more convenient than dealing with reimbursements) or they might be on top of travel costs. Do academics always apply for the proper visas, when they can enter a country, say, on a tourist visa? No, they don’t.

Even when you think you’re doing everything right, dealing with borders is fraught. American artist Rachel Nabors learned the hard way recently that immigration law is unclear, and offering information to border agents can get one deported. American Sabine Parrish was detained for the crime of trying to enter the UK to visit a professor but “having insufficient personal funds to pay for a course that I hadn’t even been accepted into.” I mention that these two women are Americans not to suggest that this shouldn’t happen to Americans, but to point out how easy it would have been for them to avoid all the trouble by saying they were on holiday.

Image credit dannyman, CC-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, this is the advice I’ve heard given to academics: always say you’re on holiday to avoid any unnecessary complications. Do I think academics are doing anything wrong when they don’t offer complete information to a border agent? No. Can I, in good faith, critique Melania Trump for doing it, or even for lying about it? No.

“Yes, but!” you say. “Academics are not the ones who want more border restrictions. Donald Trump is.” This is true. Politico says that

Trump, who has made his opposition to illegal immigration the centerpiece of his campaign, has also vowed to crack down on the use of H1-B visas as president. In March, he said he would “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”

This would be a disaster; I think we all understand that. But we have to remember something very important: if you attack Donald Trump on this, you are threatening his wife’s legal status. Say what you will about Donald Trump’s policies, but always keep in mind that immigration affects families. Please don’t use Ms. Trump’s possible immigration as a cudgel to attack the Trumps. Instead, use it to point out the benefits of free travel, work, and association, and of a global fields like modelling and academic research.

Ms. Trump is a victim of the same difficult immigration policies that academics are. Those of us who depend on globalization for our livelihoods should show support for one another. To blame Ms. Trump for skirting the same rules that academics skirt regularly would be hypocrisy.