Donald Trump will give a much-anticipated speech on illegal immigration Wednesday after a week of a flip-flops on his signature issue. Until now, the candidate has rallied his supporters with promises of building a wall to keep Mexicans out, and a proposal to ban Muslims. One M-word he most likely will not mention is models, although, according to a new report in Mother Jones, the businessman’s modeling agency, Trump Model Management, apparently let some of its charges work in the United States illegally.
Mother Jones’s detailed account centers on the testimonies of three former Trump models who claimed that, as non–United States citizens, they took gigs in America using tourist visas, which is definitely not legal. The models say the agency’s representatives encouraged them to lie, if necessary, to authorities.The ex-models also detail some exploitative practices, including charging exorbitant rents for crammed rooms that models shared.
The article points out that these type of arrangements — models working without proper visa documents, and questionable labor practices — are not at all unusual in the fashion industry. But that doesn’t make it legal. “Honestly, they are the most crooked agency I’ve ever worked for, and I’ve worked for quite a few,” Rachel Blais, a Trump model from Canada who signed with the agency in 2004, told Mother Jones. Blais claimed that for six months she lived and worked in New York — including, she says, a modeling job on Trump’s reality-television show, The Apprentice — without proper paperwork. She eventually did secure an H-1B visa; Trump Model Management deducted its cost form her earnings.
Two Trump models, Anna and Kate — both pseudonyms — also said they were employed in the United States, but never obtained the proper visa. Per Mother Jones, all of the models knew they could potentially get in trouble, but the Trump agency was complicit in the practice:
The three former Trump models said Trump’s agency was aware of the complications posed by their foreign status. Anna and Kate said the company coached them on how to circumvent immigration laws. Kate recalled being told, “When you’re stuck at immigration, say that you’re coming as a tourist. If they go through your luggage and they find your portfolio, tell them that you’re going there to look for an agent.”
Not all of Trump’s foreign models worked illegally, but according to the models, women had to prove their worth in the fashion industry before the company would sponsor them:
“It was very much the case of you earn your visa,” Anna said. “Essentially, if you got enough work and they liked you enough, they’d pay for a visa, but you weren’t about to see a dime before you could prove your worth.”
Most of those models who did get the proper paperwork obtained an H-1B visa, designed for “specialized workers.” It’s a program Trump has said that he would “end forever … and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.” (Though he’s waffled on that issue, too.)
The GOP candidate still has an 85-percent stake in Trump Model Management, according to Mother Jones, though the Trump campaign would not answer any questions about its labor practices. Trump Model Management also did not respond to inquiries.
This latest report comes after Politico, by way of the New York Post, detailed Melania Trump’s own iffy immigration status when she modeled in New York City. Inconsistencies in Melania Trump’s background pointed to the possibility that she came and worked in New York City on a short-term business or tourist visa — which technically was a no-no, but sounds quite similar to what Mother Jones’s sources did. Melania Trump has denied those allegations.