Road to citizenship for Melania Trump’s parents came through program Trump wants to change

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The attorney for first lady Melania Trump’s parents confirmed on Thursday that the couple became U.S. citizens with help from their daughter, in a process sometimes called “chain migration” or family-based migration that has been previously lambasted by President Trump.

Michael Wildes, the attorney for the first lady’s parents Viktor and Amalija Knavs, told The New York Times on Thursday that their daughter had sponsored them for a green card, and that they applied for citizenship once they were eligible.

When asked if the couple became citizens through chain migration, Wildes replied, “I suppose. It’s a dirty — a dirtier word.”

Wildes told ABC News “they applied on their own.”


“It stands for a bedrock of our immigration process when it comes to family reunification,” he told the Times.

The Times noted that the couple would have to have their green cards for five years to become eligible for citizenship. Wildes told the newspaper that the Knavs fulfilled the five-year requirement, but declined to give further comment.

The Knavs were sworn in as U.S. citizens earlier Thursday, during a ceremony in New York. The couple is from Slovenia, where Melania Trump was born and raised.

President Trump and other conservative lawmakers have described the immigration process as “chain migration,” and have called for it to be replaced with a merit-based system that would prioritize immigrants with certain skills for green cards.

Democrats and immigration advocates who back the program refer to it as “family migration” and “family reunification visas,” saying the term “chain migration” is offensive and that the policies help reunite communities that are otherwise separated.

Attempts to pass immigration reform have recently stalled in Congress, and the family migration program has fallen from the spotlight as the detention of immigrant families, including children, gained national attention.

The president has called for an end to the program that allows immigrants to become U.S. citizens on the basis of a family member’s status. He has demanded that the process be evaluated in any forthcoming immigration reform.

He seized on the policy after two terror attacks in New York City last year, claiming it posed a threat to national security. The suspect in an attempted bombing in the New York subway system in December had entered the U.S. through a visa for children of siblings of American citizens.

“Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” the president said during his State of the Union speech earlier this year. “Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children. This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security and our future.”

Updated at 5:15 p.m.

Tags Citizenship of the United States Donald Trump Donald Trump Family reunification Melania Trump
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