On July 16 2019, the Facebook page “Yes She Can” shared a meme with claim that Rep. Ilhan Omar had been an American citizen longer than First Lady Melania Trump (née Knauss):
Text posted with the meme went as follows:
Isn’t it interesting how Trump only hates the immigrants when they’re brown. I wonder if he ever tells Melania to go back to her own country? #racistpresident
The meme itself read:
JUST A REMINDER
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has been a citizen six years longer than Melania.
For context, the meme circulated after a series of July 14 2019 tweets, in which U.S. President Donald Trump claimed that “Democrat women” ought to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Trump didn’t mention anyone by name, but it was widely inferred that he referenced Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. Of the four, Omar was the only lawmaker who obtained citizenship by naturalization rather than birth, as Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Pressley were all born in the United States and thus entitled to birthright citizenship.
In a nutshell, the claim is that Omar achieved citizenship earlier than Mrs. Trump, by six years. Initial reports about Omar’s political rise mention her path to United States citizenship in the 1990s:
Omar’s family moved to Virginia from Kenya when she was twelve years old, after her family, refugees from the civil war in Somalia, had been granted a chance to apply for citizenship in the United States. Omar spoke almost no English when she landed in Arlington, but that was not the only barrier. “This is the first time I realized the stigma that I carried as an immigrant and a refugee, and a Muslim person who was visibly Muslim, with a head scarf,” she said in an interview earlier this year. “And that my blackness was a source of tension.” By the time she was fourteen, the family had settled in Minnesota, where the federal government helped to resettle a large Somali-refugee population in the nineteen-nineties.
In October 2018, the Associated Press reported that Omar had achieved American citizenship as a teenager in the year 2000:
As for Omar’s own immigration story, she was a child when her family fled Somalia, a nation of about 12 million in Africa, after it was shattered by a civil war in 1991. She spent years in a refugee camp in Kenya and immigrated to the United States as a refugee in 1995. She became eligible for citizenship five years after their entry, and Omar became a citizen in 2000, when she was 17.
In December 2018, the New York Times reported on the timeline:
[Ilhan Omar] became a citizen in 2000, when she was 17.
“I think back to the orientations I went through a little over 20 years ago in the process of coming to this country, and in those orientations they did not have people who were homeless. There was an America that extended liberty and justice to everyone. There was an America where prosperity was guaranteed regardless of where you were born and what you looked like and who you prayed to,” [Omar] said, adding, “I wasn’t comfortable with that hypocrisy.”
The circumstances of Omar’s naturalization are at curious odds with a favored conspiracy theory about her — that she married her brother to leverage her own citizenship to acquire his. The man in question is a British citizen who did not emigrate to the United States, but that does not faze those who push it. In that theory, naturalized citizen Omar relied on that very citizenship to purportedly attempt immigration fraud:
As with “birther” claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, promoters of the Omar smear are using it to strike at the heart of Omar’s status as an American citizen, even though it’s about “her brother” entering the country under false pretenses. Under this impossible theory, they claim it means that Omar abused her own citizenship to get her brother admitted to the country, and will, therefore, somehow have her citizenship revoked.
Omar has provided access to her immigration records to outlets upon request, as she did in October 2018. Credible outlets such as the Associated Press and the New York Times have reported her year of naturalization as 2000, and related rumors about alleged marriage fraud with respect to citizenship hinge largely on her putative leveraging of her citizen status (although green card holders can petition for a spouse’s legal residency in the United States).
Omar’s move to the United States as a child and subsequent naturalization as a citizen is well documented and widely reported, with no inconsistencies anywhere that we could locate. By all accounts, she arrived in the United States in 1995 as a refugee and obtained citizenship in 2000 five years later, at the age of 17.
Melania Trump’s immigration story is also fairly well-documented, as she was independently notable as a model well before her marriage to Donald Trump. A New York Post article reported in August 2015 on when Mrs. Trump was purportedly naturalized:
Although in 2011, when Trump was pushing for President Obama to release his birth certificate, Melania — who became an American citizen in 2006 — backed up her husband in an interview with Joy Behar.
Paths to citizenship differed for Omar and Trump, as they often do on individual bases depending on circumstances, financial situations, and even countries of origin. Omar entered the country as a 12-year-old refugee in 1995 and became a citizen in 2000. Trump began entering the United States between 1995 and 1996 for her work as a model, by her own account returning to Europe to comply with visas expiring:
In a January  profile in Harper’s Bazaar, Trump said she would return home from New York to renew her visa every few months. “It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers. That is just the person you are,” she said. “You follow the rules. You follow the law. Every few months you need to fly back to Europe and stamp your visa. After a few visas, I applied for a green card and got it in 2001.”
By Mrs. Trump’s account, she became a green card holder in 2001; by then, Omar was already a citizen. Pursuant to media reports in September 2016, immigration lawyer Michael Wildes provided a timeline for Melania Trump’s acquisition of a green card and her citizenship in 2006:
According to Wildes, Melania Trump in 2000 sponsored herself for a green card “as a model of ‘extraordinary ability.’” Her application was accepted, and she became a lawful permanent resident of the United States on March 19, 2001; five years later, in 2006, she became eligible for citizenship. (The Trumps were married in 2005.)
Immigration lawyer Michael Wildes, who represented Melania Trump, spoke about the circumstances under which Mrs. Trump entered the United States in December 2016, in an article that detailed the lawyer’s own political positions and his involvement in verifying her path to citizenship:
Michael Wildes is trying to thread a needle.
Mr. Wildes, an immigration lawyer who was Englewood’s mayor from 2004 to 2010, is a lifelong Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter who also represents Melania Trump, the wife of President-elect Donald J. Trump.
Because there is some controversy about Ms. Trump’s immigration status — she is undeniably a U.S. citizen now, but questions still swirl around her path to citizenship — and because Mr. Trump’s statements about immigrants frighten many immigrants and their allies, and seem ironic if not actively hypocritical when juxtaposed with Ms. Trump’s history — and because it is not easy to be an active and public Democrat supporting this president-elect in any case — Mr. Wildes finds himself choosing his words very carefully these days.
As the open letter he wrote detailed, Mr. Wildes said that Ms. Trump first came to the United States on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa in 1996, and obtained the first of a series of yearlong H-1B visas later that year. She was issued a self-sponsored green card “based on her extraordinary ability” in 2001, he continued. (Donald Trump and Melania Knauss were married in .) “There is no doubt that she is highly accomplished,” Mr. Wildes said. “She has been associated with some of the biggest ad campaigns in the world, and she was highly remunerated.”
Wilder didn’t present the situation as clear-cut, stating on the record that the means by which she obtained a self-sponsored green card were “fishy”:
Ms. Trump has chosen not to release any of the documentation she provided to the government, which would put the public’s questions to rest, but “why should she release them?” Mr. Wildes asked. “The government reviewed them and trusted her. She’s not releasing them because she doesn’t feel that her privacy needs to be invaded. She was transparent about the indicia in her passport — but they are personal documents.
“I studied them,” he said. “I studied them with a magnifying glass. I studied them three-dimensionally. I am a stalwart Democrat, and if there was anything inappropriate, I would not have stayed the course. If she had not been compliant, I would not be her lawyer. That’s a tall order, but I’m old school. Someone’s word has value. Our scholarship is unparalleled when it comes to these matters.”
So the reason people are skeptical about Melania Trump is because “all of this is fishy — but it’s not impossible.” To the extent that there are questions about the way she gained citizenship, “it would be an embarrassment.”
Records of modern naturalizations are neither public nor available for either Melania Trump or Ilhan Omar, but the citizenship records of both women have been reviewed, fact-checked, and consistently reported. Neither woman has deviated from or argued with media reports about the years of their respective naturalizations — Omar in 2000, Trump in 2006. Omar has been a citizen for approximately six years longer than First Lady Melania Trump.