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Congratulations, Viktor and Amalija

Our view: From this day forward, when someone uses the demeaning term ‘chain migration’ Americans should think of this nice, deserving couple from Slovenia

Viktor and Amalija Knavs were quietly sworn in as United States citizens Thursday in New York, and it’s unfortunate that they have chosen to be, shall we say, somewhat shy about their good fortune. Most Americans don’t know the Knavs. They are private people who don’t show up for sit-downs on “60 Minutes” or have major profiles in Vanity Fair. But we have neither read nor heard anything to suggest the couple is not deserving of citizenship. Mr. Knav is a former textile factory worker and car dealer. He and his wife are from Sevnica, a rural industrial town in Slovenia, and lived much of their lives under communist Yugoslavia. Viktor and Amalija are 74 and 73 years old, respectively.

What makes the Knavs’ citizenship especially joyful is not simply that they left Central Europe behind to come to the United States but that this represents a reunification of their family. Their daughter, who was born in Slovenia when it was still part of Yugoslavia, has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2006. It made no sense to limit the couple’s legal presence in the U.S. They committed no crimes. They represent no burden on society. This is the American dream. The moment they became U.S. citizens deserved to be celebrated, publicly and loudly. Yet it was not — for the most petty of reasons: The circumstances may have been an embarrassment to President Donald Trump.

The Knavs are, of course, President Trump’s father-in-law and mother-in-law, grandparents of his son Barron and parents of First Lady Melania. Mr. Trump didn’t attend the ceremony despite being on vacation. Sadly, neither did Melania. It would be silly not to recognize the reason. The Trumps and the Knavs didn’t want to bring extra attention to the moment because it so firmly and clearly contradicts the assault on “chain migration” that Mr. Trump has used to inflame public fears of immigrants.

Exactly one week before this joyful day of citizenship, President Trump was at a rally in Wilkes Barre telling his faithful followers that chain migration was a product of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and it needed to be discarded. In this, he mixed up (deliberately perhaps) this country’s longstanding family reunification policies with the diversity visa program, a smaller and more contemporary form of legal immigration. Family reunification, or the dreaded “chain migration,” has been around for about a century. It also gives priority to spouses and children under a provision that was added in the 1950s. But then Mr. Trump has called family reunification worse. Last November, he tweeted that it was “truly evil” and that it “must end now.”

The Knavs are the face of family reunification policy, or at least they should be. Their experience is far more typical of immigrants than the hordes of invaders and gang members the president so often portrays. Admittedly, most new arrivals don’t find themselves hanging out at the White House or Palm Beach or traveling under Secret Service protection. But doesn’t it make this a great country that they might? Here’s what the Knavs’ immigration lawyer, Michael Wildes, said about how existing U.S. law accommodated the Knavs’ situation: “I believe strongly in the principles of family reunification, which is a bedrock of immigration policy and law and has brought millions of people happily to our shores.”

That President Trump can have a wife and son who so happily benefit from family reunification and then lambaste the practice and misrepresent it in the most shrill manner possible doesn’t make him a hypocrite. That would suggest he was merely trying to pretend to be something he is not. No, the president’s behavior is far worse. He is a scaremonger who plays off people’s fears of outsiders, usually non-Christians or non-whites or both. He attacks undocumented immigrants when their numbers in the U.S. haven’t been growing in the U.S. for a decade, he claims they are rapists and murderers when studies show they are less likely to commit crimes than people born in this country, and he claims immigrants are hurting the economy and a drain on government when they are nothing of the kind. That he lives with such obvious evidence of the success of “chain migration” under his own roof makes him what his in-laws might call a “tepec.”

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