First lady Melania Trump on Thursday made a surprise visit to get a first-hand look of child detention center in South Texas, a day after her husband, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to stop the separations and keep families together during immigration proceedings.
“We all know they’re here without their families, and I want to thank you for your hard work, your compassion and your kindness you’re giving them in these difficult times,” Melania Trump said during a brief remark at a child detention center in McAllen, Texas.
Melania was greeted by Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter CEO Dr. Kirk Senske, who outlined the center’s five markers of success — safety, life skills, health, education and vocation. The shelter is a Health and Human Services Department grantee facility run by Lutheran Social Services of the South, and is part of a network of 32 state-licensed facilities in Texas, according to the Center for Investigative Journalism. The facility, according to Senske was opened in 2014 and currently have 58 children, ranging from the age 12-17 years old. Most of the children in the shelter crossed into the U.S. as unaccompanied minors, with only six of the children separated from their families upon being detained.
During the roundtable, the first lady asked several questions, including how many times the children speak with their families, as well as the children’s physical and mental health. She was told the children speak to their families twice a week, due to a process to verify that the persons they are communicating with are their families. As for the children’s physical and mental health when coming into the facility, Melania was told they are “”usually distraught” when they arrive, but “when they see the environment they start relaxing.”
“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 statement said. “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.”
News cameras showed the first lady, dressed casually in slacks and tennis shoes and accompanied by Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, speaking with officials at the center, while thanking them for “all the heroic work you do every day.” She spent about 75 minutes at the shelter, interacting with dozens of kids. However, no audio or photos of these interactions were permitted due to rules enforced by the children shelter.
“She wanted to see everything for herself,” first lady’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told reporters on the plane heading to McAllen. “She supports family reunification. She thinks that it’s important that children stay with their families.”
Grisham added, “This was 100 percent her idea. She absolutely wanted to come. And it was her idea before POTUS signed the executive order.”
Melania weighed in on this issue on Sunday, issuing a statement that she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
The unexpected trip for Melania was intended for her to learn more about how these children can be reunited with their parents “as quickly as possible.”
The first lady intends to inform the President on what she saw during her visit.
“She will continue to update her husband,” said Grisham. “I’m sure she’ll continue to let her husband know her opinions. She does that often.”
Along with the children’s shelter, Melania had also planned to tour the Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center, a Customs and Border Patrol/DHS intake center where migrant families spend a few days. But, the tour was scrapped due to flooding from recent heavy rains.