US first lady Melania’s parents get permanent residency through ‘chain migration’ system criticised by Trump

Viktor and Amalija Knavs, like their daughter, are from Slovenia. They appear to have taken advantage of a system that Donald Trump has dubbed “chain migration” and has promised to end.

world Updated: Feb 22, 2018 18:31 IST
Press Trust of India, Washington
Melania Trump,Melania Trump's immigrant parents,Immigrants
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive for a National African American History Month reception in the East Room of the White House on February 13, 2018 in Washington, DC.(AFP Photo)

The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents and are close to obtaining their American citizenship, apparently taking advantage of a family unification programme criticised by US President Donald Trump, according to a media report on Thursday.

Washington Post quoting immigration experts reported that Viktor and Amalija Knavs very likely relied on a family reunification process that President Trump has frequently derided as “chain migration” and proposed ending such cases.

The Knavses, formerly of Slovenia, are living in the country on green cards, according to Michael Wildes, a New York-based immigration lawyer who represents the first lady and her family.

“I can confirm that Mrs. Trump's parents are both lawfully admitted to the United States as permanent residents,” he said. “The family, as they are not part of the administration, has asked that their privacy be respected, so I will not comment further on this matter,” Wildes said.

The Knavses are awaiting scheduling for their naturalisation oath ceremony, The Post quoted a person with knowledge of their immigration filings as saying.

Permanent residents typically have to hold green cards for five years before they can apply for US citizenship.

It is unclear when the Knavses first moved to the US, but by late 2007, Viktor Knavs was listed in public records as residing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Questions over the Knavses’ immigration status have escalated since Trump campaigned for the White House on a hard-line anti-immigration agenda. Those questions grew sharper last month, when the president proposed ending the decades-long ability of US citizens to sponsor their parents and siblings for legal residency in the United States.

Trump has repeatedly blasted the long-standing policy as ‘chain migration’. In his first State of the Union address last month, Trump had called that process a threat to Americans’ security and quality of life.

Under his plan, he said, only spouses and minor children could be sponsored for legal residency.

But immigration experts said that such a path was the most likely method his in-laws would have used to obtain permits to live in the United States, the report said.

The Knavses are reportedly retired. In Slovenia, Viktor Knavs, now 73, worked as a chauffeur and car salesman. Amalija Knavs, now 71, was a pattern maker at a textile factory.

David Leopold, an immigration lawyer and a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the first lady’s sponsorship of her parents appears to be the only reasonable way they would have obtained green cards because the process currently gives preferential treatment to parents of US citizens.

“That would be the logical way to do it, the preferred way to do it and possibly the only way to do it under the facts that I know,” Leopold said.

A White House spokesman and a spokeswoman for the first lady declined to comment, the paper said.

First Published: Feb 22, 2018 10:43 IST