RNC: Melania Trump's speech on the joy of citizenship revives questions about her immigration status

The first lady has previously been accused of violating immigration rules by working on a tourist visa in the 1990s

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 26 August 2020 12:45
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Melania Trump describes her pride in attaining US citizenship in RNC speech

In an address to the Republican convention, first lady Melania Trump rhapsodised about the joy of US citizenship – raising once again the question of exactly how she attained it.

“I arrived in the United States when I was 26 years old,” Ms Trump recalled. “Living and working in the land of opportunity was a dream come true, but I wanted more. I wanted to be a citizen. After 10 years of paperwork and patience, I studied for the test in 2006 and became an American citizen.

“It is still one of the proudest moments in my life, because with hard work and determination I was able to achieve my own American dream. As an immigrant and a very independent woman, I understand what a privilege it is to live here and to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we have.”

While the whole speech was received by different audiences with sympathy, mockery and cynicism, this section also attracted suspicion – and anger.

“Noteworthy – on Melania’s so-called American dream, under her husband’s immigration policies, neither she nor her parents would be here,” wrote one Twitter user.

“Melania came to this country with a possibly invalid visa,” said another. “She married a US citizen and had an anchor baby. She then used chain migration to get her parents citizenship. And she has the audacity to talk about immigration? Get real.”

Some pointed out that Ms Obama was appeared in public and on TV during the Obama administration propagating the infamous “birther” conspiracy theory, which her husband used to undermine the sitting president while raising his own political profile.

Others pointed out that Donald Trump himself promised that Ms Trump would hold a press conference to explain her immigration history “over the next couple of weeks” – a promise he made in 2016. The press conference has never happened.

The story of Ms Trump’s immigration to the US has long been an awkward subject for her husband’s administration. In the year 2000, the then Ms Knauss applied for and received an EB-1 – the so-called “Einstein Visa” usually reserved for people of “extraordinary ability” in their field of work, extending to cover people in the arts.

Whether and how Ms Trump qualified for that distinction is unclear. The EB-1 is highly prized, with very few people in any given field making the cut. Yet while Ms Trump was an international model at the time, hers was not a globally ubiquitous name, and she had not received the level of formal or public recognition generally needed to qualify for the visa.

In fact, even at the turn of the millennium, she was perhaps most famous for dating Donald Trump.

Her immigration status before securing the visa is a murkier matter still. She is known to have been in and out of the US in the 1990s on a varying basis, at first on a tourist visa – and in recent years, it has been reported that she earned some $20,000 before receiving legal permission to work.

Under an executive order since signed by her now husband, she would have faced deportation for doing this.

And by subsequently securing legal status for her parents based on her own naturalisation, she has also fallen foul of what her husband and various anti-immigration Republicans refer to as “chain migration” – the prospect of new entrants bringing in a wave of family members, which many conservatives view as a threat to the American workforce and way of life alike.

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