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First lady Melania Trump's parents were sworn in as U.S. citizens Thursday, using a visa system that President Donald Trump has repeatedly denounced.
Viktor and Amalija Knavs, both in their 70s, took the citizenship oath at a special, private ceremony in New York City. The Slovenian immigrants, a former car dealer and textile factory worker, had been living in the U.S. as permanent residents.
The Knavses slipped in and out of a side entrance at a Manhattan federal building flanked by Department of Homeland Security police. They said little other than Viktor telling a reporter "thank you" when she asked how they felt about becoming Americans.
The couple's lawyer said they had "travailed a wonderful journey."
Lawyer Michael Wildes said the Knavses applied for citizenship on their own and didn't get any special treatment.
Wildes told The New York Times that Melania Trump sponsored her parents.
"They had gotten sponsored by their daughter and then once they had the green card, they then applied for citizenship when they were eligible," he said.
President Donald Trump in January proposed ending most family-based immigration — which he has railed against as "chain migration" — and replacing it with a skills-based system. Trump also called for eliminating a visa lottery program for people from countries under-represented in the U.S.
Trump's plan, which Congress has resisted, would limit immigrants like his wife to sponsoring only their spouses and underage children to join them in the U.S., not their parents, adult children or siblings.
Experts estimate those measures would cut legal immigration into the U.S. nearly in half.
In November, Trump denounced the ability of immigrants to sponsor family members. "CHAIN MIGRATION must end now!" he tweeted. "Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!"
Just a few weeks ago, Trump tweeted again against "chain" migration.
Amid a bitter debate over immigration — particularly the Trump administration's separation of children from families crossing the border illegally — Wildes said the Knavses' attaining citizenship was "an example of it going right."
Melania Trump, who has been vacationing with her husband in Bedminster, New Jersey, did not accompany her parents.
Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, declined to comment. She said the first lady's parents "are not part of the administration and deserve privacy."
Wildes wouldn't say how long the Knavses have lived in the U.S. Under the law, permanent residents must live in the country for at least five years before applying for citizenship.
The Knavses' citizenship ceremony was kept hush-hush at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building. Security guards and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services workers in offices adorned with President Trump's portrait said they were unaware of anyone being sworn in there on Thursday.
New citizens are normally minted on Fridays, they said, and often the ceremonies are held at the federal courthouse across the street.
The Knavses raised Melania, born Melanija, in the rural industrial town of Sevnica while Slovenia was under Communist rule.
She attended high school in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, and changed her name to Melania Knauss when she started modeling.
She settled in New York in 1996 and met Trump two years later. They married in 2005.
Viktor Knavs is 74, two years older than his son-in-law. Amalija is 73.
Trump hasn't commented or tweeted about his in-laws' newfound citizenship.
Around the same time the Knavses were completing the ceremony, he was tweeting his rage about the ongoing Russia probe ("an illegally brought Rigged Witch Hunt") and his excitement about plans for a sixth branch of the military ("Space Force all the way!").