By Chris Jennewein
Spouses are generally off-limits to media during political campaigns, but Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric makes it relevant to note that two of his three wives weren’t American citizens.
Ivana Trump, his first wife, was born Ivana Zelníčková in the former Communist republic of Czechoslovakia. She immigrated to Canada and then to the United States, marrying Trump in 1977. She didn’t become a U.S. citizen until 1988, after their three children were born.
Marla Maples, Trump’s second wife, was an American citizen, born in the tiny town of Cohutta in Georgia’s carpet-manufacturing region. She was a high school beauty queen and later an actress, appearing in commercials and on television.
But for his third wife, Trump turned again to an immigrant. Melania Trump was born Melanija Knavs in Slovenia, which was then part of the communist republic of Yugoslavia. She worked as a model in Milan and Paris before immigrating to the United Sates in 1996. She married Trump in 2005 and became an American citizen a year later.
Trump has criticized former President Bill Clinton over his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and other alleged infidelities, but presumably nothing like that happened at the end of each of the billionaire developer’s marriages. He was apparently just trading up to newer models.
It’s possible his choice of wives-who-were-born-as-communists explains his surprising admiration for Russian Premier Vladmir Putin (” highly respected within his own country and beyond”) and North Korean nuclear wannabe Kim Il Jong (“he’s got to have something going for him”).
Trump has risen in the polls on his plans to build a “great, great wall” along the Mexican border, deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and halt immigration of anyone who is Muslim. He tells rallies that he is “strong on immigration,” and criticized former Florida governor Jeb Bush for having a Mexican-born wife and speaking Spanish.
“You have people coming in, and I’m not just saying Mexicans — I’m talking about people that are from all over that are killers and rapists, and they’re coming into this country,” Trumps warns.
He has proposed an end to birthright citizenship, and his campaign’s official position paper calls for moderation of even legal immigration, noting “the influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans.”
The irony of all this is that Trump’s family, past and present, is an example of immigrant success in America. His grandfather immigrated from Germany, managed restaurants and hotels in the Yukon, and finally settled in New York, where he started a real estate business. His father married an immigrant from Scotland and further built the family business. Trump married aspiring immigrants, became a national business and entertainment figure, and is now the Republican Presidential front-runner.
Maybe voters can learn from what he’s done, if not what he says.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.
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