First lady Melania Trump’s immigration attorney is criticizing the president’s hostility toward “chain migration” — a process by which U.S. citizens or permanent residents can sponsor family members to come to the country — and said the attacks are “unconscionable.”
“This is a tradition that happens in all rank and all files of life, whether you’re president of the United States — and this is the first naturalized first lady that we have — or people who eventually navigate through the waters into America,” Michael Wildes told CNN on Friday.
Wildes, a high-profile attorney who has worked for numerous celebrities on immigration cases, represented the first lady’s parents, who became naturalized citizens Thursday. Viktor and Amalija Knavs left their native Slovenia and had been living in the United States as permanent residents.
Citing legal experts, The Washington Post reported in February that the Knavses very likely came to the United States through family reunification, with their daughter sponsoring their green-card applications. Wildes confirmed as much during the interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront,” saying the first lady hired him “with the intentions of bringing her family here like everybody else would.”
It’s the same process of legal immigration that President Trump has derided as “chain migration” and which he has called to end.
Trump has claimed that chain migration has resulted in national security threats, even though studies have shown that immigrants, both legal and undocumented, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. In several speeches and interviews over the past months, Trump has called chain migration “terrible” and a “disaster.” He has also claimed, falsely as The Post’s Fact Checker found, that the process allowed a terror suspect to bring two dozen relatives to the country.
“You bring one person in, you end up with 32 people,” he said at one news conference.
“You come in and now you can bring your family and then you can bring your mother and your father, you can bring your grandmother,” he said at another.
Responding to the president’s comments, clips of which were played in succession during the interview, Wildes denounced claims that chain migration allows people to simply bring in any relative to the United States.
“Let me take off one hat as the first lady’s immigration lawyer and her family and put on my own personal hat. It’s unconscionable to scare people into believing that. You cannot bring nephews, you cannot bring nieces or uncles, you can’t bring 32 people here, and some of the quotas are backed up for 10 or 15 years from particular countries,” Wildes said, adding that the proper term is family reunification. “Imagine this, people will work harder and love more and do more for America knowing that their loved ones, their immediate relatives, their parents, their children.”
Wildes, a staunch Democrat who is running for a third term as mayor of Englewood, N.J., has previously criticized the president’s policies on immigration. Among his other clients have been British singer Boy George and French chef Jean-Georges.
Under U.S. law, citizens can sponsor their spouses, children, parents and siblings so that they can come to the United States. Rules are stricter for permanent residents or green-card holders, who can sponsor only a spouse or unmarried children. The process often takes years and often has a lengthy waiting list. Nearly 4 million applicants were on the waiting list as of last November.
Both Melania Trump and the president’s first wife, Ivana, came to the country as immigrants. Ivana Trump, born in the former Czechoslovakia, became a naturalized citizen in 1988.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about Wildes’s remarks. Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Melania Trump, had previously declined to comment about the first lady’s parents because they’re not part of the administration.
The president in December called for ending chain migration and the visa lottery system, after Uzbekistan-born Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov allegedly killed eight people and injured a dozen others in an attack in Manhattan. The lottery system, which allowed Saipov to come to the U.S., is a process in which up to 50,000 immigrant visas are drawn annually from a random selection of applications from countries with low rates of immigration to the country.
“We’re going to end both of them, the lottery system and chain migration. Fast. Congress must get involved immediately and they are involved immediately, and I can tell you we have tremendous support. They will be ended. These attacks underscore the dangers we face from around the globe,” Trump said at a news conference.
David Nakamura contributed to this article.