Trump Modeling Agency's Visa Practices Questioned

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By Laura D. Francis

Sept. 7 — Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to investigate whether Trump Model Management violated immigration law by employing foreign models who were in the U.S. on tourist visas.

The allegations against the agency owned by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump first came to light last week in an article appearing in the progressive magazine Mother Jones, according to Boxer. Information in the article indicated “widespread noncompliance with immigration and labor laws,” she said in a letter to USCIS Director León Rodríguez.

Trump Model Management has also been accused by a former Jamaican model of violating the requirements of the H-1B highly skilled guestworker program by paying her just over $3,000 over the course of three years. She pursued her claim before the Labor Department after her Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act case was thrown out by a federal judge in March.

A DOL administrative law judge in August dismissed her case because the department’s enforcement arm found her complaint untimely.

“I am extremely concerned by the claims levied against Trump Model Management and ask that you open an investigation into the company’s employment practices,” Boxer said in the letter. “I hope you will make clear that immigration and labor violations like these will not be tolerated.”

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez was also copied on the letter.

Allegations Contradict Campaign Position

If true, the allegations contradict the presidential candidate’s hard-line stance on immigration, including his calls for removing undocumented immigrants and transforming the legal immigration system to better protect American workers.

The allegations refer to incidents that occurred “many, many years ago,” Ronald Lieberman, executive vice president for management and development at the Trump Organization, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 7. He said he couldn’t speak to what might have been going on 10 or more years ago without going through company records, but as of now, “everything is being done perfectly.”

“Every girl has what they need to work,” and if the USCIS does wind up investigating at Boxer’s request, “they’ll find that everything is in compliance,” Lieberman said. As for Palmer’s case, which was based on more recent events, he stressed that it was “completely dismissed.”

“We run a terrific modeling agency that’s highly respected throughout the modeling industry and we take a lot of pride in the operation and how we treat our girls,” Lieberman said.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

The H-1B visa, the visa category used by fashion models, “is really the heart of America’s employment-based immigration system,” New York immigration attorney Roger Algase told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 7. “It’s the only work visa out there that’s regularly available to people” who have a college degree and want to work in the U.S., but don’t otherwise stand out in a way that would qualify them for other visa categories, he said.

Recent high-profile cases of companies accused of replacing U.S. information technology workers with H-1B workers—such as at Walt Disney World and Southern California Edison—have sparked controversy over the program’s use.

Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) put pressure on the DOL to investigate those cases, although the department didn’t turn up any wrongdoing. It’s possible that Boxer’s attention to the Trump Model Management allegations will also prompt a federal investigation.

Proposed H-1B Changes Pending in Congress

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who also spoke out against these uses of the H-1B program, has introduced a bill ( H.R. 5801) that would raise the salary employers would have to pay their H-1B workers to avoid attesting to the federal government that they couldn’t first find any U.S. workers for the positions. The bill, which has co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle, has garnered the support of the tech industry, but is meeting resistance from the Indian staffing firms that are its primary target.

The idea is to prevent employers from hiring H-1B workers instead of U.S. workers by low-balling the offered salary, thus discouraging U.S. workers from even applying.

The bill would be a small change to the program. But if you do away with it entirely on the ground that foreign workers on H-1B visas take away jobs from U.S. workers, “you’re cutting the heart out of the employment-based visa system,” Algase said.

If the allegations against Trump Model Management are true, Algase said, felony charges could also be possible. That includes charges that Trump Model Management representatives told models to lie to immigration authorities about their reasons for coming to the U.S. It would only be a civil violation if the models honestly said they were coming for meetings but later changed their minds and started working without authorization, he said.

“The immigration law, as we all know, is extremely complex,” Algase said. So I would be “the last person to condemn someone” who was trying to comply, yet wound up inadvertently violating it, he said.

But here Trump is saying he wants to deport up to 12 million people for violating the law when his company may have been deliberately violating that same law as a regular course of business, Algase said. “I just think there’s something wrong with that,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

For More Information

Text of Boxer’s letter is available at http://src.bna.com/imz.

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