When the WaPo tried to fact check the status of FLOTUS's parents

By way of introduction, here’s how I’ve generally understood the process of “fact checking” to work:

1. Somebody says something.
2. Somebody else hears it and says, “You know, that doesn’t sound right to me.”
3. A fact checker, such as the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, goes and researches the subject and provides the verifiable, correct answer.


Or at least, as I said, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Today, however, Glenn decided to fact check the immigration status of Viktor and Amalija Knavs, the parents of First Lady Melania Trump and in-laws of the President. Who made a claim about their immigration status and who questioned it? We’re not entirely sure, but Glenn leads off his article with this tweet.

“Here are Melania’s Parents. Viktor and Amalija Knavs. They live in the United States Permanently now because of Chain Migration after Melania’s Visa Expired & she stayed here Illegally and married Donnie for Citizenship. None of them have a degree or a job”.

Yep… it’s a tweet. From a week ago. Posted by someone going by the handle of “Brasilmagic.” Here’s something to note about the tweet. Aside from getting the names of Melania’s parents correct, virtually every word of it is either wrong, unverifiable or misleading. Also, this patently false information has thus far received 67K retweets and 124K likes. To his credit, Kessler does at least go so far as to debunk most of it.


First of all, we should note that this particular tweet falsely claims that Melania Trump, who is a native of Slovenia and married Donald Trump in 2005, stayed in the United States illegally after her visa expired and that she married Trump only to obtain citizenship.

There is no evidence that is the case. In September 2016, she released a letter from an immigration attorney stating that she did not receive a green card through marriage.

“Rather, in 2000, Mrs. Trump self-sponsored herself for a green card as a model of ‘extraordinary ability,’ and on March 19, 2001, she was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident,” wrote Michael J. Wildes. “Based on this timeline, Mrs. Trump became eligible for citizenship in 2006, after five years of continuous permanent residence.”

Well, that’s nice. At least they cleared that much up. Of course, Kessler then goes on to dredge up rumors of the First Lady working as a model when she wasn’t legally eligible to do so, noting that the Trumps dispute that account. Again, no resolution is arrived at in terms of factualness. What he fails to mention is that in terms of “not having a job,” the Knavs are retired. (The father is older than President Trump.)


Kessler then goes on to answer the original question. What is the actual status of Melania’s parents in terms of legal immigration? The anonymous tweeter claims that they are here “because of chain migration.” Glenn offers four possibilities with lengthy explanations of each, including what some “experts” feel are the most likely scenarios.

  • Legal permanent residence on an IR-5 visa, a.k.a. chain migration
  • Extended tourist visas, which could keep them here legally for quite a while
  • Parole, granted by DHS based on humanitarian or significant public benefit reasons
  • Student (F-1) visas, which is basically out of the question

So, not having any idea what the actual answer is, I would agree that any of those are possible, with the student visa being the least likely. But which one is it? Glenn Kessler doesn’t say because apparently the fact checker does not know. The White House hasn’t commented on it and the information may not be available anywhere else.

So how precisely is this a fact check? You’ve identified some possibilities and assigned them some fairly plausible but hardly definitive levels of relative probability, but you’ve barely narrowed down the field. Since we didn’t get the answer from this article, then anything is actually possible, right? You could have suggested that they’re actually in the country illegally. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? Or maybe they’re ghosts and aren’t really here at all except through the magic of some sort of White House hologram machine.


All things considered, I think I’ll go with the hologram idea. Come on, Glenn. Prove me wrong.

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John Stossel 12:00 AM | April 24, 2024