The Slovenian immigrants became United States citizens on Thursday, after an undisclosed number of years living in the U.S.
Michael Wildes, the lawyer representing Viktor and Amalija Knavs, confirmed that the couple obtained citizenship through that immigration program, which allows U.S. citizens to sponsor immediate family members for legal residency.
Wildes at first declined to comment when reporters outside the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in New York City asked if the Slovenian-born couple had become U.S. citizens using chain migration. But he later told The New York Times, “I suppose” that was the case.
“It’s a dirty — a dirtier word,” Wildes said of chain migration. “It stands for a bedrock of our immigration process when it comes to family reunification.”
Wildes added that the first lady sponsored her parents so they could get green cards, and that the Knavs “then applied for citizenship when they were eligible.”
Since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly called for the elimination of chain migration. Last September, he tweeted, “CHAIN MIGRATION cannot be allowed to be part of any legislation on Immigration!”
And in his State of the Union address in January, Trump said that “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives” — a claim rated “mostly false” by Politifact — and noted that his administration was working on a plan to limit such sponsorships to spouses and minor children. Under such a plan, people like Viktor and Amalija Knavs would not be able to emigrate to the U.S.
Wildes confirmed to PEOPLE on Thursday that the Knavses had become citizens, but declined any further comment. The first lady’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Wildes did not specify the length of time the Knavses have been living in the United States, according to the AP. Under United States law, permanent residents must be in the country for at least five years in order to apply for citizenship.
The first lady’s parents, who are both in their 70s, took the citizenship oath on Thursday at a private ceremony in New York City, the Associated Press reported. The husband and wife — a former car dealer and a former textile factory worker, respectively — had been living in the United States as permanent residents.
Wildes told reporters outside a Manhattan federal building on Thursday that the Knavses’ citizenship process was “no different” from anyone else’s.
“The dialogue we are having on immigration, this is an example of it going right,” Wildes added.
While President Trump’s parents-in-law were successful in becoming U.S. citizens, his administration is seeking to make citizenship more difficult to obtain for both undocumented and legal immigrants.
In January, Trump proposed ending most family-based immigration and replacing it with a system prioritizing skilled immigrants. He has also recently said he’s looking to terminate a visa lottery program for people from countries under-represented in the U.S. This plan would limit immigrants like the first lady to sponsoring only spouses and underage children, as opposed to parents and other adult family members.
Throughout his tenure in the White House, Trump has upheld his promise to crack down on immigration. Last month, he released memos that make denying visa applications easier.
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The memos “are intended to further restrict and discourage much-needed legal immigration,” Mark Roberts, CEO of TechServe Alliance, told AXIOS. “This abrupt change in policy will have the perverse effect of discouraging businesses from having work performed in the U.S. — a highly undesirable outcome for all workers, businesses and the economy as a whole.”
Trump has not commented on the Knavses’ citizenship.