US First Lady Melania Trumps parents became American citizens in a naturalisation ceremony here, completing a year-long immigration process even as President Donald Trump called for new laws to bar Americans from sponsoring parents and other relatives.
Michael Wildes, an attorney for Viktor and Amalija Knavs, who had been living in the country as legal permanent residents after leaving their native Slovenia, confirmed that his clients took the oath of citizenship at the ceremony on Thursday, reports The Washington Post.
“Citizenship was just awarded,” Wildes said. “They have prevailed in a wonderful journey, as millions have.”
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the First Lady, declined to comment on the couple, saying that “they are not part of the administration”.
Wildes said the Knavses satisfied the requirement that permanent residents hold their green cards for five years before they can apply for US citizenship.
However, it remains unclear when the Knavses first moved to the US, but by late 2007, Viktor Knavs was listed in public records as residing at Mar-a-Lago, the President’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla.
The Knavses received no special treatment because of their relationship with the first family, Wildes told reporters in New York.
“The application, the process, the interview was no different than anybody else’s, other than the security arrangements to (the) facility today,” he said. “This is an example of it going right. They’re very excited.”
Questions about the couple’s immigration status intensified last year as the President mounted a push to reduce legal immigration, including provisions to constrict the ability of US citizens to sponsor their parents, adult children and siblings for green cards, The Washington Post reported.
In fiscal 2016, the US granted nearly 1.2 million green cards, of which 174,000 went to parents of American citizens, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
President Trump has railed against what he calls “chain migration”, which he says has resulted in fiercer competition for blue-collar jobs for native-born Americans and greater national security concerns.
Melania Trump, formerly a model known as Melania Knauss, arrived in New York in 1996 and began dating Donald Trump in 2000.
In 2001, she was granted a green card in the elite EB-1 programme, which was designed for renowned academic researchers, multinational business executives or those in other fields, such as Olympic athletes and Oscar-winning actors, who demonstrated “sustained national and international acclaim”.
The year she got her legal residency, only five people from Slovenia received green cards under the EB-1 programme, according to the State Department.
The Knavses raised Melania in the rural town of Sevnica when Slovenia was a part of communist Yugoslavia.
Viktor Knavs, now 74, was a car dealer, while Amalija Knavs, now 73, worked in a textile factory.