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Trumping Immigrants

The First Lady's parents became United States citizens thanks to a program that President Donald Trump wants to end

First Lady Melania Trump's parents became U.S. citizens last week through the family-based immigration system, derided by President Donald Trump as "chain migration." (Photo: @CNN/Twitter)

All of our people, all over the country-except the pure-blooded Indians-are immigrants... —Franklin Delano Roosevelt, November 4, 1944

A number of readers have written asking whether the recent privately held citizenship ceremony for Viktor and Amalija Knavs had anything to do with the new regulation being proposed by the Trump administration to make it easier to reduce the population of the United States. The question is timely, because news of the proposed regulation leaked out two days before Viktor and Amalija proudly became citizens.

Viktor and Amalija were sworn in as United States citizens on August 9, 2018, in a private ceremony that took place in Manhattan. Both their daughter and son-in-law were busy and unable to attend, but it was nonetheless a happy day. Their son-in-law is Donald J. Trump, and their daughter is his wife, Melania, of whom they are terribly proud since they had not dreamed she would attain such stature when she first left home as a teenager.

Viktor and Amalija became United States citizens thanks to a program that Donald wants to end. That program is known as “chain migration.” The program permits American citizens to obtain residency for certain relatives who are non-citizens. The relatives who can gain entry under that program are the spouse, minor child, parent, of a U.S. citizen, and certain other individuals described by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Donald’s wife, Melania, has been a United States citizen since 2006. She sponsored her parents’ residency some years ago and they have been United States residents since the early 2000s. On August 9, 2018, the private ceremony took place in Manhattan making them United States citizens.

The first question thoughtful readers have asked is whether Viktor and Amalija decided to obtain their citizenship last week because their son-in-law had tweeted: “Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE.” Readers asked if it was possible that the Knavses thought Donald was referring to them since reports say that they live in Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago and the White House. Some readers wondered if Donald may just have tired of having them around all the time and longed for the happy times he and Melania had together before her parents became permanent fixtures. That tweet was sent out in 2017, however, long before the swearing in ceremony, so it is unlikely that tweet was the motivating factor in their decision to become citizens last week.

Other readers asked whether it had anything to do with a proposed regulation, news of which had leaked out two days before Amalija and Viktor became citizens. The proposed regulation applies to all legal immigrants who have obtained benefits from assorted safety net programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program known as “CHIP,” food stamps, public housing, or health insurance purchased on an Obamacare exchange. Under the proposed regulations, immigrants who have received those benefits or whose children have received those benefits, even if the children are United States citizens, are subject to deportation even though they are legal residents. The question is did the Knavses want to get their citizenship before the new rules became effective. Here is what may have made them nervous.

The Knavses live in the White House some of the time and feared that might be considered public housing, thus subjecting them to deportation. The same is true of their meals when in the White House. An argument might be made that the meals they eat there, for which they almost certainly do not pay, are the equivalent of food stamps and, therefore, would qualify them for instant deportation under the proposed regulation.

The third reason the Knavses might have wanted to quickly become citizens is because, under the proposed rule, it is not only the benefits they receive under the proscribed programs that jeopardizes their ability to stay in the country, but benefits received by any of their children, even if those children are United States citizens. Thus, if Melania receives any of the proscribed benefits, the Knavses could be subject to deportation since the rule applies to the children of non-citizen parents living in this country. Melania is certainly not getting any benefits under CHIP or Medicaid. Although it might be said that Melania is receiving a proscribed governmental benefit because she lives in government provided housing, the house in which she lives almost certainly does not qualify as public housing. Similarly, even though many of her meals are paid for by the government, those meals cannot be considered purchased with food stamps and hence that part of the proposed regulation does not apply to her.

All of the foregoing notwithstanding, the Knavses may have been told by a super-cautious lawyer that they should get their citizenship while the getting was good, lest some someone come up with a creative analysis of the proposed rule and conclude that it does apply to them. The good news, as far as the Knavses are concerned, that they are now safe. The bad news is none of the less fortunate people who are now here legally but to whom the proposed regulations do apply, are not. As the tweet says: NOT ACCEPTABLE. Would that that were true.

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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. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

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