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President Donald Trump and his wife Melania

President Donald Trump and his wife Melania greet reporters in Detroit, Michigan during the presidential campaign. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The In-Laws and the President

First Lady Melania Trump's parents got into this country under the current immigration rules that the president hopes to change

Christopher Brauchli

The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.
—Samuel Johnson, Anecdotes of Samuel Johnson

Herewith a little known fact. At least two of Mr. Trump’s positions on immigration, and the abuses that he believes our lax rules have led to, may be the direct result of his personal experiences. The first is his objections to illegal workers who come into the country and take away jobs from hard working United States citizens.  

A White House paper was released Sept. 5, 2017, with the catchy title: “President Donald J. Trump Restores Responsibility and the Rule of Law to Immigration.” In the section entitled: “Protecting Our Workers,” the paper says that the goal is to “encourage companies to raise wages and recruit American workers. This means stopping the practice of hiring illegal workers who unlawfully deprive American workers of jobs and higher wages.” When that paper was written, Mr. Trump had no idea that within three months following its release, a court would unseal the terms of settlement of a trial that took place 20 years earlier involving claims for lost wages filed by illegal immigrant laborers Mr. Trump had hired to demolish the building that stood where Trump Tower now stands.

According to a report of the case in the New York Times, Mr. Trump, through a contractor, hired 200 undocumented Polish workers to help demolish the building. They worked without hard hats, gloves, or masks, and were paid $4.00 an hour which was less than half of union wages that were being paid to other workers on the job. The Polish workers had the temerity to sue him over their pay and working conditions. According to one witness at the trial, Mr. Trump told him that he liked the Polish workers, telling the witness that the Polish guys “are good, hard workers.” Although Mr. Trump testified that he didn’t know there were illegal aliens working on the job, the workers’ lawyer received a call from Mr. Trump’s lawyer threatening to have the Polish workers deported. After 15 years of litigation, the kinds of protracted litigation that Mr. Trump specialized in in his earlier life, the case was settled. The terms of the settlement were kept under seal until mid-December 2017, when the judge ordered them unsealed. We then learned that the settlement cost Mr. Trump $1.375 million. It is not surprising that Mr. Trump wants to crack down on illegal laborers coming into this country and taking jobs from U.S. workers. That’s exactly what he did, and it worked out badly for him. He wants to protect other employers from having the same bad experience.

The other arena in which Mr. Trump’s immigration policies may have been framed by personal experience, involves “chain migration.” “Chain migration” occurs when immigrants wanting to immigrate to the United States are sponsored by family members who already live in the United States. Family members who qualify for sponsorship by those already living in the United States are the spouse, minor child, or parent of a U.S. citizen, and certain other individuals described by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That, Mr. Trump believes, is too inclusive and he has tweeted about it repeatedly. In one tweet in November 2017, he said: “Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE.” It was probably only an unfortunate coincidence that within three months after that tweet, chain migration hit close to home.

Toward the end of February 2018, there were a number of reports that Melania Trump’s parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, who have lived in the United States since the early 2000s, would soon be converting their green cards into citizenship papers. They got into this country because under the current rules that Mr. Trump hopes to change, American citizens can petition for residency for, among others, their parents, and that is what Melania Trump did for her parents.

It should come as no surprise that Mr. Trump decided to take advantage of his power as president to make a statement about chain migration, just as he used that power to make a statement about illegal workers who cost him more than a million dollars. The change he proposes won’t benefit him personally, but it will protect others who might find themselves in his situation. They will not affect him personally, because his in-laws already live here. Nonetheless, the idea for limiting chain migration came to him as a result of personal experience.

Relationships among in-laws, as many readers know, can at times be trying. According to news reports, Ms. Trump’s parents have obtained green cards and are now awaiting a date to be sworn in as United States citizens. Since arriving in this country, they have reportedly lived some of the time in Trump Tower, spent time at Mar-a-Lago, and are now frequently seen in Washington. Their ubiquity may well have contributed to certain tensions between the son-in-law and Melania’s parents. And those tensions may explain Mr. Trump’s ferocious opposition to chain migration. That, of course, is mere speculation on my part. It would not be a surprise, however. Family tensions can do that to you—especially when one of the parties to the relationship is Donald Trump.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. For political commentary see his web page at

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