Throughout her husband's numerous attempts to restrict immigration to the United States, Melania Trump and her parents have been subject to speculation about their own immigration statuses. The first lady was born in Slovenia, and there has been speculation that her parents are in the United States on the type of family-based visa that the president wants to eliminate. As a result, immigration nonprofit Define American made a petition asking Melania Trump to stand with immigrant families like her own.
The president has routinely advocated for an end to what many immigration hardliners call "chain migration" — essentially, the family reunification provision of the American immigration system. This provision enables U.S. citizens or permanent residents to sponsor family members to come to the United States. The president has been vocal in his opposition to "chain migration," going so far as to make the inaccurate claim that it enables immigrants to "bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives." In reality, family reunification typically pertains to spouses, children, siblings, and parents — not distant relatives.
But if Melania's parents are permanent residents, as immigration attorney Michael Wildes said last month, it is possible that they relied on the family reunification process to obtain visas and ultimately green cards. This may pose a problem for an administration that has resolutely rejected this process, and it also prompted Define American's petition — which has already received more than 50,000 signatures on Change.org.
The petition criticizes the current administration for attempting to eliminate "Family Preference" migration, and calls on the first lady to make a statement. It reads:
[Trump smearing "chain migration"] is the tip of the spear in a campaign to change America's immigration policy, to make it harder for people who are from non-majority white countries to legally come to America. But if it is good enough for the Trump family, it is good enough for the rest of the nation.
The petition also asks Melania to "stand beside her mother and father, and tell their true immigration story, defending a system of legal immigration that works for American families — and has clearly worked for them." As Newsweek reported, Melania has never shared her immigration story, despite having her immigration status questioned throughout her husband's campaign and presidency. In August 2016, Trump said during a campaign rally that Melania would hold a press conference to address her arrival and initial work in the United States, but that press conference reportedly never happened.
To be clear, the petition does not question Trump's immigration status, nor those of her parents. As Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in August 2016, "sharing our individual immigration stories helps transcend politics and humanize this complex issue."
Rather than speculate about the first lady's family, Define American is trying to invite Trump into an ongoing conversation about immigration in the United States — and it's not the first time. Define American initially launched this petition to Trump while her husband was still running for president; that original petition invited the first lady to join the immigration nonprofit's "Coming Out" campaign, and asked her to share her own immigration story.
It is significant that the first lady's parents may have acquired permanent residency through a process that the president wants to eliminate. During his State of the Union address in January, Trump proposed an immigration plan focusing "on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children." If this plan were to become law, families like the first lady's would not be able to reunite in the United States, because parents aren't included. The Define American petition is therefore urging Melania Trump to speak up on this issue, because it is one that has affected her so personally.