White House refuses to explain immigration status of First Lady Melania Trump’s parents

Maya Oppenheim
Critics on social media questioned whether the president is being hypocritical and questioned Ms Trump’s parent’s immigration status: AFP/Getty Images

The White House has flatly refused to reveal the immigration status of Melania Trump’s parents Viktor and Amalija Knavs.

The congressional debate on overhauling immigration laws taking place this week has sparked renewed attention on the First Lady’s parent’s immigration status.

US President Donald Trump has supported bills that would stringently restrict so-called chain migration – those who move to America due to family connections, which include the granting of immigration visas to the parents of US citizens.

Critics on social media asked whether the President was being hypocritical and questioned Ms Trump’s parent’s immigration status.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post consulted immigration expert's assessments to come up with four status possibilities for the Knavs but the White House rebuffed their efforts to narrow down the couple's immigration status.

When presented with the list, Stephanie Grisham, the First Lady’s spokeswoman, responded: “None of those options apply.”

She added: “I don’t comment on her parents, as they live private lives and are not part of the administration."

The paper’s analysis found two of the possibilities to be politically awkward for the Trump Administration. If the Knavs are residing in the US on an IR-5 visa they are legal permanent residents due to being the parents of a US citizen, Ms Trump: the first ever First Lady to be born in a communist nation.

This is at direct loggerheads with the White House’s immigration proposal which would restrict family visas to lawful permanent residents, spouses and minor children of US citizens and ultimately end extended family chain migration.

The First Lady’s parents could instead be in the US on extended tourist visas – a program Mr Trump has contemplating curtailing.

The less politically thorny options include the Knavs requesting parole into the US founded on humanitarian or significant public benefit reasons or – while unlikely – here on a student (F-1) visa which lets international students stay in America as long as they are going to school.

A letter from immigration lawyer Michael Wildes which Ms Trump released in September 2016 states the former model - who is the President’s third wife - did not obtain her green card through marriage.

“Rather, in 2000, Ms Trump self-sponsored herself for a green card as a model of ‘extraordinary ability,’ and on March 19, 2001, she was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident,” Mr Wildes wrote. “Based on this timeline, Mrs Trump became eligible for citizenship in 2006, after five years of continuous permanent residence.”

Ms Trump’s father is an ex member of the Yugoslav Communist Party and worked as the chauffeur for the mayor of Sevnica, his hometown in Slovenia, before carving out a career as a successful car salesman.

The First Lady's mother was previously a pattern maker at a textile factory but the couple are now said to be retired.

The Knavs have been residing in the US for at least a year, according to various news reports. It is thought the couple, who Politico described as the “hyper involved Slovenian grandparents” last June, help their daughter care for Barron Trump – the 11-year-old son of the Presidential couple.