Update: On Thursday, an attorney for first lady Melania Trump’s parents confirmed that they had been granted citizenship using the process that President Trump has denigrated as “chain migration.” In February, we noted how common that was within Trump’s own family. That report is below.
In the depiction of the White House, a long-standing federal policy making it easier for citizens and legal residents of the United States to have their families join them here is “chain migration,” a scourge that fosters terrorism and other untoward acts. During President Trump’s State of the Union address, he argued that the country should “protect the nuclear family by ending chain migration,” somehow suggesting that a policy that allows limited members of close relatives to be reunited is undercutting close family relationships.
The official White House Twitter account depicted “chain migration” — a policy long known as “family reunification” — this way.
On Wednesday, the picture got a little weirder. The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig, David Nakamura and Nick Miroff report that first lady Melania Trump’s parents almost certainly got green cards using the chain migration/family reunification process. A lawyer for her parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, only confirmed their status.
Immigration attorney David Leopold said that since the Knavses are retired, other options for them receiving green cards were limited.
“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,” he said.
Assuming that Melania Trump’s parents were sponsored by her under the family reunification process, it adds a remarkable complexity to Trump’s own family picture. Trump’s son, Barron Trump, would have three of four grandparents who arrived in the United States after following relatives — and the father of his fourth grandparent did as well.
We looked at the “chain migration” links to various White House staffers last month, including Trump. Here’s how Trump’s chain worked:
[Trump’s] mother, Mary Anne MacLeod migrated to the United States in 1930 from Scotland at the age of 18. She joined her sister Catherine MacLeod (who had married a butler named George Reid) in Astoria, Queens, as reported by the Scottish paper the National.
“The National can reveal that Mary Anne had been issued with immigration visa no. 26698 at Glasgow on February 17, 1930,” reporter Martin Hannan writes. “On the passenger list for all aliens … Mary Anne states she will be living with her sister Mrs Catherine Reid, 3520 6th Avenue, Astoria, Long Island.” That document also indicated that MacLeod intended to become an American citizen.
The immigration papers for MacLeod’s arrival show that she sought to stay in the country permanently (“Perm”) and that she would seek citizenship (“Yes”).
Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, arrived in 1885. He landed at Castle Garden in what’s now Manhattan’s Battery Park, where he was greeted by his sister Katharina. He quickly found work in the United States.
At one point, Friedrich Trump returned to Germany after having been made a U.S. citizen. Upon arrival, though, he faced deportation for illegally emigrating and for having failed to perform mandatory military service. (It’s not clear whether this was a result of a medical condition.)
Both MacLeod and Friedrich Trump arrived before the legal formalization of the family reunification policy, which occurred in 1965. But the idea was the same: to give families a way to be together in the United States by granting parents and children priority in the immigration process. (We explored this at length this month.)
For members of the extended Trump family, that meant that Fred Trump (the president’s father) could marry an immigrant. It meant, too, that when his son followed the same path, she could bring her parents to join them.
Melania Trump earned her green card in 2000 as a model of “extraordinary ability,” according to a letter from her attorney released shortly before the election. As a legal permanent resident, her ability to sponsor family members for immigration was limited and excluded her parents. When she later became a citizen, the Knavses were eligible for sponsorship and, by all appearances, took advantage of the opportunity.
Good news for Barron Trump, who now gets to have a closer relationship with his grandparents. Not great news for his father’s rhetoric.