“I am a daughter of an immigrant,” Ivanka Trump told Axios in a breakfast interview this morning (Aug. 2), discussing her father’s immigration policies. “My mother grew up in communist Czech Republic.”
“She came to this country legally,” the US president’s daughter and advisor was careful to clarify.
But the story of Trump’s mother, Ivana, actually perfectly captures how permeable the line of legality is, when it comes to immigration.
The president’s first wife does seem to have entered the US legally in 1976: She moved from Canada to the US to work as a promoter for Montreal’s Olympics. In New York, she met Donald Trump and married him the following year. But it took a visa scam for her to leave her native Czechoslovakia in the first place, which her lawyer Michael Kennedy described as a “Cold War marriage.”
In 1972, Ivana was dating George Syrovatka. But she married Austrian friend Alfred Winklmayr, a union she reportedly kept rather private (even her children didn’t know about it.) In a 1990 news conference during the divorce trial for Ivana and Donald Trump, Kennedy said that Ivana and Winklmayr married for the “sole purpose” of her leaving Czechoslovakia.
The couple, said the lawyer, never consummated the marriage and never lived together. Thanks to the marriage, she received an Austrian passport in March 1972, with which she emigrated to Canada a few months later. There, she kept up the façade marriage through the waiting period required for her immigration status to be confirmed. She dissolved the union in 1973—and moved in with Syrovatka in Montreal.
In the US, marrying Winklmayr for immigration purposes would be a felony called “marriage fraud.” According to ICE, marriage fraud “carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000, and applies to both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens who perpetrate this crime.” Convenience marriages contracted in order to obtain immigration status are illegal also in Austria and Canada.
“She wanted her freedom,” Kennedy said of his client’s sham marriage.
Quartz has reached out to Ivana Trump and will update with relevant comment.