NEW YORK: The Slovenian-born parents of Melania Trump became US citizens at a naturalisation ceremony in New York on Thursday (Aug 9), reportedly taking advantage of a family reunification programme President Donald Trump has vehemently denounced.
Trump's in-laws Viktor and Amalija Knavs took the oath of citizenship, their immigration lawyer Michael Wildes confirmed to AFP.
Asked by the New York Times if they had obtained citizenship under a programme derisively branded "chain migration" by the president, Wildes replied: "I suppose."
He said chain migration, which allows naturalised US citizens to sponsor close relatives for permanent residency, was a "dirtier" way of characterising what he called "a bedrock of our immigration process when it comes to family reunification."
Trump has taken a hardline on immigration policy, criticising so-called chain migration.
The Republican president has said such a system steals jobs from Americans and threatens national security, calling for a merit-based system that gives preference to more educated, English-speaking professionals.
Writing on Twitter in November, Trump made his views on the system clear.
"CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!"
He frequently cites the example of Sayfullo Saipov, a naturalised immigrant from Uzbekistan who drove a rented truck down a busy bike path in New York in October, killing eight people and injuring 12, to illustrate why the family reunification programme must be ended.
Highlighting the administration's approach to immigration, the naturalisation took place as a Washington federal judge threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of court after the government moved to deport a mother and daughter, despite an order halting such a move.
The woman, referred to as "Carmen," and her daughter were part of a group of immigrants who had fled "extreme sexual and gang violence" in Central America, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
It is not clear when the Knavs couple obtained their green cards, though their status as permanent residents was first revealed by Wildes in February.
Melania Trump, the 48-year-old first lady, was their sponsor, Wildes told the Times.
Under US law they must have been permanent residents for five years before applying to become citizens, and the time to process an application can take several months thereafter.
Viktor Knavs, a car salesman in Slovenia, and Amalija, who worked in a textile factory, are over 70 years old, retired and pass much of the year in the United States, where they regularly spend time with their daughter and grandson Barron.