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Melania Trump’s parents would have struggled to come to the U.S. under Trump’s immigration plan

President Trump joins first lady Melania Trump during a White House Historical Association Dinner in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday.
President Trump joins first lady Melania Trump during a White House Historical Association Dinner in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

President Trump’s proposed plan to overhaul the U.S. immigration system would have made it more difficult for his in-laws to migrate to the United States.

First lady Melania Trump, who immigrated from Slovenia in 1996 for modeling, likely brought her parents over through a family unification process that Trump wants to limit, immigration experts say.

The president announced Thursday the contours of a plan that would include increasing the percentage of highly skilled immigrants and decreasing the number of those sponsored by family members living lawfully in the United States.

About two-thirds of green cards, denoting legal permanent residence, are issued to people through family ties, and 12 percent are based on merit. The White House wants 57 percent of all green cards to be given to highly skilled workers and just a third to family, with priority given to spouses and children.

“The loved ones you choose to build a life with, we prioritize,” Trump said during his Rose Garden speech announcing the plan. “And we have to do that. They go right to the front of the line. Right to the front of the line, where they should be.”

Because Trump does not intend to increase the number of green cards issued per year, that would mean that the parent category would be significantly cut if not eliminated, said Julia Gelatt of the Migration Policy Institute.

“When you play out the numbers, in order to get there, you’d have to cut most categories of family sponsorship,” she said.

Melania Trump’s parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, most likely came to the United States via family sponsorship. The only other way would have been through employer sponsorship, and the Knavses are reportedly retired.

It is unclear when the Knavses first moved to the United States, but by late 2007, Viktor Knavs was listed in public records as residing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla. They became U.S. citizens last August.

David Leopold, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, dismissed Trump’s plan as a campaign ploy. But he said it was no surprise that Trump is seeking to devastate family reunifications.

“That is the consistent theme of this administration,” he said, “Yet, Melania has benefited from the immigration system; his in-laws are here because of the immigration system. He demonizes immigrants when he is benefiting and profiting from undocumented workers at his golf club.”

“For them to talk about the immigration system is an absolute joke and it’s shameful,” Leopold said.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, founder of the Pennsylvania State University law school’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, said Trump’s proposal to restrict family immigration undermines American values.

“Family has long been a core value in our immigration law,” she said. “The real impact of Trump’s plan is that family would be diminished, longtime residents in the United States would be devalued, and a slice of ‘skills’ would be favored.”

David Nakamura contributed to this report.