melania trump
Melania Trump, wife of Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump accompanies her husband on the campaign trail. In an interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the Slovenia native referenced her own immigrant experience as a model for legal immigration. February 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Even in a room full of Latino journalists who are uncomfortable with Donald Trump’s rhetoric, Melania Trump’s declaration that she followed immigration law struck a chord here at the Latin Times. Like many of our friends and family, Trump’s wives have negotiated the creaking machine that is the U.S. immigration system. Some of use are even negotiating the immigration system right now. So I put a question to the office. Agree or disagree with this headline: “Melania Trump Is Right: Immigrants Should Follow The Law.”

“I followed the law," Melania told MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski for Morning Joe. "I never thought to stay here without papers. I had a visa, I traveled every few months back to the country to Slovenia to stamp the visa. I came back, I applied for the green card, I applied for the citizenship later on after many years of green card. So I went by system, I went by the law. And you should do that, you should not just say let me stay here and whatever happens, happens.”

Two of our reporters, both legal immigrants themselves, immediately agreed. First there’s Maria Valdez, our Dominicana jefa who is in the U.S. legally with an 0-1 (extraordinary abilities) visa.

Maria: Agree

Then there’s reporter Janel Saldana, a Mexican national also on a 0-1 visa who is currently applying for permanent residency (aka a green card).

Janel: Agree

Before we had a straw poll of the office, the conversation shifted to one of our more common discussions: is Trump racist?

Trump has repeatedly and falsely drawn a parallel between Mexican immigrants and crime. Yet for some, inaccurate comments about immigration seem to be a separate issue from racism in the narrower sense: a belief in superiority or inferiority of os a person based on genetics.

Maria: Although I do not agree with Trump's politics, I do believe people have taken what he said out of context. Personally, I don't think Trump hates immigrants, his fight has been with those coming to the country illegally. [...] He "hates" illegal immigrants

But even Trump’s campaign against illegal immigration feels like it spills over into a racist attitude for Natalie Roterman, a Mexican-American native of Texas.

Natalie: Hmmm I don’t think he appreciates the legal ones that much. And I do think he's racist, legal [immigrant] or not.

Maria : His wife [Melania Trump] is an immigrant --

Natalie: -- ya but not a Latina.

Janel agreed with Maria that Trump was not particularly racist. But she felt that his heated rhetoric makes him a poor candidate for the presidency. In particularly, she observed that what might help in U.S. real estate deals won’t help in international politics.

Janel: He doesn’t know how to talk [...] good luck dealing with the UN.

This back-and forth lasted about 20 minutes, interrupted by the occasional request to look at a headline like one about Gina Rodriguez referencing Laz Alonso during African-American history month.

Natalie: Everyone should follow the law but what’s unacceptable (and honestly very scary) is the superiority and inhumanity in which Mr. Trump is addressing the matter.

Maria: It’s a very delicate issue.

Just when we thought we had reached a nuanced discussion of Melania's comments, Armando Tinoco entered the chat. Armando is our highest-hitting entertainment writer, a proud Mexican-American and really not into Donald Trump.

Armando Trump doesn't have a stance on anything though. He just spews out words that people want to hear but doesn't give it context. He loves the 'Hispanics.' He loves 'the poorly educated.' He loves 'Nevada.'

Clearly, we didn’t exhaust the possibilities of this discussion, particularly on the issue of Melania’s immigration. For example, I’ve noticed that caucasian immigrants like Melania have an easier time navigating the immigration system, and avoiding punishments when they make mistakes. For example, I’ve seen Italian, French and Canadian immigrants overcome visa overstay problems and even drug convictions, only to go on and obtain a green card or even citizenship.

Still, I think we can all agree: immigrants should follow the law. Should there be exceptions? That's another discussion, one that we hope you'll join in the comments below.

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