First Lady Melania Trump made an unannounced visit to McAllen, Texas, on Thursday to see with her own eyes the crisis affecting immigrant families held at detention centers on the Mexico-U.S. border.
The first lady’s visit comes days after she appeared to criticize her own husband’s since-reversed “zero-tolerance” family separation policy, which has seen thousands of children forcibly removed from their parents who were caught crossing into America.
“First Lady Melania Trump has arrived in Texas to take part in briefings and tours at a nonprofit social services center for children who have entered the United States illegally and a customs and border patrol processing center,” the first lady’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement.
“Her goals are to thank law enforcement and social services providers for their hard work, lend support and hear more on how the administration can build upon the already existing efforts to reunite children with their families,” the statement added.
According to White House pool reports, Mrs. Trump toured two facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security during her trip to McAllen — the Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center, a Customs and Border Patrol intake center, and Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter, a Health and Human Services grantee facility that currently houses about 60 kids (ages 5-17, though mostly teens) from Honduras and El Salvador.
“She wanted to see everything for herself,” Grisham told pool reporters. “She wants to see these children and she wants to help children. … She wants to see what’s real. She wants to see a realistic view.”
“She supports family reunification,” Grisham added. “She thinks that it’s important that children stay with their families. … She’s seen the images. She’s heard the recordings… She was on top of the situation before any of that came out. She was concerned about it. … The images struck her, as a mother, as a human being.”
Mrs. Trump spent a little over an hour with 55 children, most of whom were from Guatemala, at the Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter. All but six of the children were unaccompanied minors, with the rest having been separated from their families, according to pool reports. She asked the children questions such as: “How long are you here?” “Where are you from?” and “Are you all friends?” As she left one classroom, she told the children, “Bye. Good luck.”
The trip was “100 percent [the first lady’s] idea,” Grisham said, and was planned on Tuesday before President Trump signed an executive order reversing his own separation policy.
President Trump supported his wife’s choice to travel to Texas. “This was her decision. She told her staff she wanted to go and we made that happen. He is supportive of it but she told him, ‘I’m headed down to Texas,’ and he supported it,” Grisham explained.
“She absolutely wanted to come,” Grisham continued. “She wants to see what’s happening for herself and she wants to lend her support, executive order or not. The executive order certainly is helping pave the way a little bit, but there’s still a lot to be done.”
Grisham also said that Melania definitely wants to see kids who are still estranged from their parents reunited. “She’ll do everything she can and she’ll speak her opinions as much as she can,” said Grisham, when asked if the first lady was putting pressure on the president. “I’m sure she’ll continue to let her husband know her opinions. She does that often.”
As an immigrant herself, the Slovenian-born first lady “supports that the law should be followed,” said Grisham.
“I don’t know that [her immigration story] plays into her thinking but I can tell you guys that when she came into this country, she did it legally and she feels that everybody should enter the country legally,” Grisham said.
“We are keeping families together,” Trump said in the Oval Office, where he was joined by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsenand Vice President Mike Pence.
“This will solve that problem. At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people who enter our country illegally,” he said.
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As CNN pointed out, in signing the order, Trump “officially reversed his debunked argument that he had no authority to stop separations of undocumented immigrant families at the border.”
He had previously said that only Democrats can fix the migrant-child crisis, saying that they were responsible for his “zero-tolerance” policy.
“I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law,” Trump told reporters on Friday.
However, as The New York Times notes, there was actually never a law that says children must be taken away from their parents at the border. In fact, it was the Trump administration’s decision to prosecute asylum seekers who enter the U.S. at the border that has led to parents being sent into criminal custody and separated from their children.