The day after the White House began a retreat from a border crisis of its own making, the Trump women began a charm offensive to blunt the impact of images of young children separated from their parents.
First lady Melania Trump made a surprise visit to an immigrant child detention center in Texas Thursday morning, part of an apparent image rehabilitation effort by the executive branch. She toured the Upbring New Hope Children’s Center in McAllen and held a roundtable discussion with staffers there.
“She wants to see what’s real,” said the first lady’s spokeswoman. “She wanted to see as close to what she had been seeing on TV. She wants to see a realistic view of what’s happening.”
Among the children in the center the first lady visited, 49 of the 55 were “unaccompanied alien children” who had crossed the border by themselves as teenagers, leaving six as victims of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy who had been separated from their parents. In an attempt to deter border crossings, including by those seeking asylum from Central American violence, border agents began to separate migrant children from their parents with no system in place to reunite them. After initially saying he could do nothing to change the policy, President Trump issued a legally questionable executive order that called for detaining immigrant families together, which would potentially violate a 1997 court ruling.
While boarding her flight to Texas, Melania was wearing a jacket that read “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?“, which she didn’t wear for the visit. A spokesperson for the first lady said it was just a jacket, and there was no hidden message.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and a White House adviser, also began issuing statements following the signing of the executive order Wednesday.
“Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border,” Ivanka wrote on Twitter. “Congress must now act + find a lasting solution that is consistent with our shared values; the same values that so many come here seeking as they endeavor to create a better life for their families.”
“Now that an EO has been signed ending family separation at the border, it is time to focus on swiftly and safely reuniting the families that have been separated,” she added Thursday, shortly after news of her stepmother’s visit to the border facility broke.
Ivanka, who has promoted herself as a champion of women’s rights during her time in the White House, had been silent in public as the separation crisis unfolded. She drew criticism for her failure to speak out, and a vulgar insult from comedian Samantha Bee.
“Ivanka feels very strongly, my wife feels very strongly about it, I feel very strongly about it. I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated,” President Trump said Wednesday.
There are questions about whether reuniting the 2,000 children who were separated from their parents over the last two months is even possible. Once the youths were separated from their parents, they became unaccompanied minors, and some parents have only a slip of paper to help them find their children in a network of 100 facilities in 17 states.
The White House began to reverse its policy after criticisms from across the political spectrum. Republican governors announced their intention to pull state National Guard troops from the border, while airlines said they would no longer cooperate with the zero-tolerance policy by transporting migrant children in government custody. All 49 Senate Democrats signed on to a bill that would have ended the separation, while some Senate Republicans issued strongly worded statements against the measure.
(Cover thumbnail photo: Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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