Politics

Amalija Knavs, Mother of Former First Lady Melania Trump, Dies at 78

Amalija Knavs, a former Slovenian factory worker who became a United States citizen with help from one of her daughters, Melania Trump, has died. She was 78.

Her death was announced on Tuesday night by Mrs. Trump, the former first lady, on X. No cause was given.

During a New Year’s Eve party at his residence and private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla., Mrs. Knavs’s son-in-law, former President Donald J. Trump, said that Mrs. Knavs was “very ill” and that Mrs. Trump was with her mother in a hospital in Miami.

Mrs. Knavs and her husband, Viktor, became naturalized U.S. citizens in August 2018 under a process in which adult citizens can help their relatives obtain green cards and gain permanent resident status. Mrs. Trump had been their sponsor.

But months earlier, Mr. Trump had denounced that process as “chain migration” and wrote on Twitter, now X: “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!”

Michael Wildes, an immigration lawyer for the Knavses, said at the time that the Knavses had met the five-year requirement to have green cards before seeking citizenship.

Citizenship for the Knavses prompted critical responses from Mr. Trump’s detractors, including a tweet from Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, a Republican strategist, who wrote: “I guess when it’s Melania’s Family, it’s ‘family reunification’ and should be applauded. Everybody else, it’s ‘chain migration’ and must be stopped.”

At the time, Amalija and Viktor Knavs were reportedly living in a penthouse at Trump Tower in Manhattan and also spending time at the White House and at Mar-a-Lago.

Ms. Knavs, center, with Barron Trump, Melania Trump and Donald Trump. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen during the Trump administration.Credit…Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

Amalija Ulcnik was born on July 9, 1945, in Judendorf-Strassengel, Austria, and grew up there and in Slovenia, when it was still a republic in Yugoslavia before its independence. Her father, Anton Ulcnik, was a cobbler and later a red-onion farmer. Her mother, Amalija (Gliha) Ulcnik, was a homemaker and seamstress.

Ms. Knavs harvested onions on her family’s farm before going to work at a state-owned children’s clothing factory from 1964 to 1997, according to a profile of Melania Trump in The New Yorker. She was responsible for “creating patterns for mass production and monitoring how a given pattern affected the final work,” Bojan Pozar wrote in “Melania Trump: The Inside Story” (2016). She also sewed clothes for her daughters, Ines and Melania.

Mr. Knavs, who worked as a chauffeur and later as a car and motorcycle salesman, belonged to the Communist Party.

Melania, who changed the spelling of her name to Knauss during her modeling career, which began in Slovenia, said that she was inspired by her mother’s work.

“My elegant and hardworking mother Amalija introduced me to fashion and beauty,” she said in her speech to the Republican National Convention in 2016. “My father, Viktor, instilled in me a passion for business and travel. Their integrity, compassion and intelligence reflect to this day on me and for my love of family and America.”

Mrs. Knavs’s survivors include her husband; Mrs. Trump; her older daughter, Ines Knauss; and her grandson, Barron Trump.

Mrs. Trump had her own immigration history. According to news reports, Mrs. Trump received a so-called Einstein, or EB-1, visa in 2001 for “individuals of extraordinary ability” when she was modeling.

She appeared on the cover of British GQ in 2000, the year before she petitioned for the visa, and was featured in Sports Illustrated and other magazines later that year.

She married Mr. Trump in 2005 and became a citizen the next year.

Orlando Mayorquin contributed reporting.

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