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story.lead_photo.caption Amalija and Viktor Knavs, parents of first lady Melania Trump, obtained green cards to reside permanently in the United States.

The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents of the United States and are close to obtaining their citizenship, according to people familiar with their status, but their attorney declined to say how or when the couple gained their green cards.

Immigration experts said Viktor and Amalija Knavs very likely relied on a family reunification process that President Donald Trump has derided as "chain migration" and proposed ending in such cases.

The Knavses, formerly of Slovenia, are living in the country on green cards -- or Permanent Resident Cards -- according to Michael Wildes, a New York-based immigration attorney who represents the first lady and her family.

"I can confirm that Mrs. Trump's parents are both lawfully admitted to the United States as permanent residents," he said. "The family, as they are not part of the administration, has asked that their privacy be respected so I will not comment further on this matter."

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The Knavses are now awaiting scheduling for their swearing-in ceremony, according to a person with knowledge of the parents' immigration filings.

Questions about the Knavses' immigration status have escalated since Trump campaigned for the White House on a hard-line, anti-immigration agenda. Those questions grew sharper last month, when the president proposed ending the decadeslong ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their parents and siblings for legal residency in the United States.

Trump has repeatedly blasted the long-standing policy as "chain migration." In last month's State of the Union, the president called that process a threat to Americans' security and quality of life. Under his plan, he said, only spouses and minor children could be sponsored for legal residency.

But immigration experts said such a path would have been the most likely method his in-laws would have used to obtain the green cards that permit them to live in the United States.

Matthew Kolken, a partner at a New York immigration law firm, said there are only two substantive ways Trump's in-laws could gain green cards: by their daughter sponsoring them or by an employer sponsoring them. The latter is unlikely, as it would require a showing that there were no Americans who could do the work for which they were sought.

Both the Knavses are reportedly retired. In Slovenia, Viktor Knavs, now 73, worked as a chauffeur and car salesman. Amalija Knavs, now 71, was a pattern-maker at a textile factory.

David Leopold, an immigration lawyer and a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the first lady's sponsorship of her parents appears to be the only reasonable way they would have obtained green cards because the process currently gives preferential treatments to parents of a U.S. citizen.

"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," Leopold said.

Foreigners can also petition for refugee status or other humanitarian programs, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

A White House spokesman and a spokesman for the first lady declined to comment.

Information for this article was contributed by Nick Miroff of The Washington Post.

A Section on 02/22/2018

Print Headline: First lady's parents likely 'chain migration' beneficiaries

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