Most Americans know that First Lady Melania Trump isn’t from the United States. Both she and her family hail from Slovenia (which was a part of Yugoslavia during Melania’s childhood). Melania’s parents have long spent time in the United States with the Trumps. But rumor has it that Melania’s parents may become American citizens through an immigration path that Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized and even sought to end.
Read on to get all the details on their situation, the family reunification process that might allow them to become American citizens, and what Donald Trump has to say about it.
1. Viktor and Amalija Knavs recently received green cards
The New York Times reports that Melania Trump’s parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, recently obtained green cards. These documents enable them to stay in the United States as lawful permanent residents. And according to the Times, a lawyer confirmed that the couple received them.
But as the publication notes, it remains unclear exactly how or when they got their green cards. Many people think they use a family reunification process that Donald Trump wants to eliminate from U.S. immigration law.
Next: Some people think they live at the White House.
2. They come from Slovenia but may live in the White House
Town and Country notes that Barron Trump is reportedly very close with his grandparents, with whom he reportedly speaks Slovenian. Viktor and Amalija maintain close ties to their hometown. But Town and Country notes that it was reported last year that Melania’s parents would “become more familiar figures around the White House,” in much the same way that Michelle Obama’s mother Marian Robinson became a fixture at the residence when she moved into the presidential mansion.
Some people have speculated that Melania’s parents may actually live at the White House, but a White House spokesperson wouldn’t confirm the claim.
Next: They may have gotten their green cards through this method.
3. The Knavses may have gotten their green cards through family-based immigration, which Donald Trump wants to restrict
The New York Times notes that news that Viktor and Amalija obtained their legal residencies “raises questions about whether the couple secured their residency through family-based immigration.” The Week notes that this sponsorship policy is also known as family reunification.
But Donald Trump refers to this kind of immigration as “chain migration.” And he’s said that he wants to restrict it. Nonetheless, immigration experts told the Times that that method would have been the most direct — and most likely — way for Melania’s parents to get their green cards.
Next: Melania probably sponsored their applications.
4. Melania likely sponsored her parents
As The New York Times explains, under family-based immigration, adult American citizens can petition for residency for their parents, adult children, and adult siblings. If Melania’s parents obtained their green cards under family-based immigration, Melania would have sponsored them in their applications for permanent residence. Vox adds that Viktor and Amalija may be in the United States on IR-5 visas as parents of an adult U.S. citizen.
“It would be odd if she sponsored her parents and didn’t want to talk about that because it’s a fairly routine thing,” law professor Hiroshi Motomura told the Times. “It only becomes sensitive if her husband is taking a position against this.” Which leads us to our next point.
Next: Donald Trump wants to curtail family-based immigration.
5. Donald Trump has taken a stand against family-based immigration
As the Times notes, Donald Trump wants to limit family-based immigration to spouses and minor children. And CNN reports that Trump and his allies in Congress also want to drop the age limit for “minor children” from 21 to 18.
But as the Times publication adds, “About seven million of the 11 million immigrants who obtained green cards between 2007 and 2016 did so through familial relations, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.” Trump has criticized the program as a path for terrorists to enter the United States. And he has called for aspects of the program to be eliminated as part of his immigration reform efforts.
Next: Melania’s parents may become American citizens.
6. Viktor and Amalija may become American citizens
CNN notes that the Knavses’ green cards will allow them to live and work in the United States indefinitely. A green card also paves the way for them to become American citizens.
In an interview with the Times, Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the law school at the University of California, Davis, refers to lawful permanent resident status as “the best of all visas.” Johnson adds, “It’s the Cadillac of immigrant visas because it allows you a path to citizenship.”
Next: But they won’t gain citizenship quickly.
7. It will take at least 5 years for them to become American citizens
CNN reports that even though Viktor and Amalija have green cards, that doesn’t mean that they can quickly become American citizens. In order to become citizens, legal permanent residents have to live in the United States continuously — and hold their green cards — for at least five years.
Newsweek reports that the Knavses await the scheduling of their swearing-in ceremony as legal permanent residents. And despite the wait, they are close to becoming American citizens.
Next: Melania also had to go through the process of becoming an American citizen.
8. Melania became an American citizen, too
The Times notes that Melania Trump became an American citizen in 2006, after obtaining a green card. As Vox explains, Melania was born in Slovenia. She first came to the United States in the mid-1990s. Then, she got a green card in 2001. Later, she married Donald Trump and eventually became the first immigrant first lady.
Vox notes that there are still some unanswered questions about Melania’s immigration story, including evidence that Melania may have worked illegally while in the United States on a tourist visa. Whether she did so knowingly, or was misled as to the legality of her modeling jobs, is up for debate.
Next: Melania’s parents spend a lot of time with the Trumps.
9. Melania’s parents already spend a lot of time with the Trump family
The New York Times reports that many people have raised questions about the immigration status of Melania’s parents because they frequently appear with the Trump family. And they reportedly spend much of their time with the Trump family.
Viktor and Amalija have attended White House events, for instance. They also celebrated Thanksgiving at Mar-a-Lago. They also spend time at Trump’s Florida estate outside of holidays. So it makes sense that they’d want to make their situation a little more permanent.
Next: Donald Trump has argued against allowing American citizens to ‘bring their whole family with them.’
10. But Donald Trump has referred to this type of immigration as ‘not acceptable’
The Times points out that despite spending significant time with his wife’s parents, who can now stay in the United States likely thanks to family-based immigration, Donald Trump has vilified this type of immigration both in speeches and on social media.
One late-2017 tweet sent by the president read, “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!”
Next: Trump even talked about it in the State of the Union.
11. Trump even mentioned this kind of immigration during his State of the Union
The New York Times notes that Donald Trump even mentioned family-based immigration during his State of the Union address. The president described a four-pillar immigration plan, and continued to criticized family-based immigration.
“Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” Trump said. “This vital reform is necessary, not just for our economy, but for our security, and our future.”
Next: There may be some other explanations as to how Melania’s parents got their green cards.
12. Viktor and Amalija could have gotten investment or work visas
The New York Times reports that it’s also possible that the Knavses could have obtained residency through investment visas or work visas. The latter, of course, would require employer sponsorship.
But as the Times points out, Viktor and Amalija are both in their 70s. And “Mr. Knavs, a former traveling car salesman, and Mrs. Knavs, who used to design patterns for children’s clothes, both appear to be retired.”
Next: These methods are a possibility, as well.
13. They could also have applied for asylum or entered the diversity lottery
The Times also notes that the Knavses could have applied for asylum or entered the diversity lottery in order to obtain their green cards. Both paths offer a limited number of visas for immigrants. And they haven’t proven immune to criticism by Donald Trump.
Trump has criticized the diversity lottery, in particular. He has complained that the program allows the admission of immigrants from countries that don’t send many people to the United States.
Next: They might even be on tourist visas.
14. It’s also possible that they have extended tourist visas
Vox points out another possibility as far as the type of visas that Viktor and Amalija may have. “Because they appear to be here in a grandparental capacity rather than working, they also might be here on an extended tourist visa,” the publication explains.
But “if they are here on a tourist visa, it’s a little difficult to see why the White House wouldn’t just say that.” Trump hasn’t proposed any changes to tourist visas. And if the Knavses were in the U.S. on a tourist basis, that could bolster Trump’s argument that “there’s no compelling need to let citizens sponsor permanent residency visas for their foreign-born parents.”
Next: The situation reminds some Americans of this uncomfortable topic.
15. The situation with Melania’s parents reminds many Americans of the racial elements of Trump’s immigration views
Vox notes that Trump critics have long accused Donald Trump of hypocrisy on the issue of immigration, because he married an immigrant but has strongly anti-immigrant views. But as the publication reports, “The irony-laden situation in which an anti-immigration president has an immigrant wife is a stark reminder of the racial element to Trump’s thinking about immigration.”
Trump has a history of racist statements, name-calling, and tweets. And many of his critics are suspicious that he has seemed to express disgust at the idea of immigration from African or Latin American countries, in contrast to European immigration. Vox adds, “That Trump does not seem especially outraged about violating the terms of a visa or alarmed by ‘chain migration’ when the visa violator and chain migrants are all white people from Slovenia underscores that suspicion.”
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