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Melania Trump recalls her personal citizenship journey in rare speech at National Archives

By Kristen Holmes and Kate Sullivan, CNN

(CNN) — Former first lady Melania Trump spoke in uncharacteristically personal terms Friday about her experience becoming a US citizen and the challenges she faced traversing a complicated legal system as she made a rare public appearance during a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives in Washington.

The former first lady applauded the 25 immigrants sitting before her who were poised to be sworn in as US citizens and outlined the many hurdles immigrants have to overcome to secure citizenship. She made no mention of her husband, former President Donald Trump, who has pledged a widespread expansion of hard-line immigration policies if elected again in 2024 that would restrict both legal and illegal immigration.

“My personal experience of traversing the challenges of the immigration process opened my eyes to the harsh realities people face, including you, who try to become US citizens,” the Slovenian-born Melania Trump said.

The former first lady, who became a US citizen in 2006, described the difficulties of trying to familiarize herself with immigration law, conducting research and painstakingly gathering information and paperwork.

“The pathway to citizenship is arduous,” she said, adding that during that time, “My life turned into labyrinth of organizing paperwork.”

Melania Trump’s appearance at the National Archives comes nearly two years after the agency asked the Justice Department to investigate her husband’s handling of White House records. The probe led to an indictment of the former president, who has pleaded not guilty to 37 federal charges. The trial in this case is expected to start in Florida in May.

Despite this, a source close to the former president insisted that he was supportive of his wife’s decision to take part in the event.

Melania Trump, who is only the second foreign-born first lady, spoke with US Archivist Colleen Shogan during her visit Friday. Shogan had personally invited the former first lady to speak at the ceremony, a spokesperson for the National Archives told CNN. The two women met while Shogan was at the White House Historical Association during Melania Trump’s tenure as first lady and worked together on a number of projects.

A source familiar with the circumstances said Melania Trump considered the invitation “an honor.”

Melania Trump has largely avoided the public eye since leaving Washington in January 2021, even as her husband pursues another White House bid.

While Melania Trump has chosen a different path than many of her predecessors, she stepped into a more traditional former first lady role last month, joining current first lady Jill Biden and former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton to pay tribute to the late Rosalynn Carter in Georgia. It is common for sitting and former first ladies to attend the funerals of former first ladies.

Melania Trump also attended her husband’s presidential announcement last November, but she has not joined him for any other public campaign events or his multiple court appearances since. Still, sources familiar with their relationship told CNN she supports her husband’s decision to run for president – but stressed that most of her focus remains on their son, Barron, who is expected to graduate high school in Florida next year.

“He has my support, and we look forward to restoring hope for the future and leading America with love and strength,” she said during a May interview with Fox News.

In September, Donald Trump suggested his wife might join him on the campaign trail in the near future.

“When it’s appropriate, but pretty soon,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press when asked when his wife would start campaigning with him. “She’s a private person, a great person, a very confident person and she loves our country very much. … And honestly, I like to keep her away from it. It’s so nasty and so mean.”

This story and headline have been updated.

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