0809 GMT January 19, 2019
On Thursday, his Slovenian in-laws, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, became United States citizens in a private ceremony in Manhattan by taking advantage of that same family-based immigration program, The New York Times reported.
Asked if the Knavses had obtained citizenship through “chain migration,” their lawyer, Michael Wildes, said, “I suppose.”
He said chain migration is a “dirtier” way of characterizing what he called “a bedrock of our immigration process when it comes to family reunification.”
Melania Trump had sponsored her parents for their green cards, Wildes said in describing the process by which the Knavses had become United States citizens. “Once they had the green card, they then applied for citizenship when they were eligible,” he said.
Even as his in-laws were going through the process, Trump was denouncing it. In November, he tweeted, “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!”
Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, said that because the Knavses are not part of the administration, “I’m not commenting on them.”
Grisham directed further questions concerning the president’s views on immigration — and the immigration status of his in-laws — to the West Wing, which did not immediately respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.
The Knavses have a relatively high profile for presidential in-laws. They frequently travel with the Trumps and split their time between New York, Palm Beach and Washington, where they stay in the White House.
Since initial reports emerged in February that the Knavses had obtained permanent residency in the United States, there has been a lack of clarity about when or how the couple received green cards. And unless the couple themselves divulge the timeline of their citizenship process, the applications and petitions are protected by privacy law.
Under immigration statutes, the Knavses would have needed to have their green cards for at least five years in order to apply for citizenship, along with fulfilling character, residency and civic knowledge requirements. The time to process an application for naturalization in New York City typically ranges from 11 to 21 months, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Their lawyer said that the couple had met the five-year requirement, but added, “I can’t give further comment.”
The president often rails against family-based immigration at his rallies, and has called it a pathway for terrorists to enter the country.