Melania Trump made a surprise visit to a detention center near the southern border and said she wants to help reunite kids who have been ripped from their parents with their families.
The first lady met with officials at a children’s detention center in McAllen, Texas, Thursday — a day after her husband reversed course and signed an executive order ending his own administration’s policy separating immigrant families who cross the border illegally.
“I’m here to learn about the facility and I know you house children on a long-term basis,” the first lady said before she toured a facility holding about 55 kids. “I’d like to ask you how I can help these children to reunite with their families as quickly as possible.”
About six of the 55 kids have been recently taken away from their parents. The rest, officials said, crossed into the U.S. alone or arrived with other relatives, according to a senior administration official.
More than 2,300 kids have been torn away from their families since the Trump administration instituted its “zero tolerance” policy regarding illegal border crossings. The approach drew a firestorm of criticism as images and audio from detention centers became public in recent days.
Recordings of children wailing for their parents and pictures of chain-link fences being used to corral kids ignited a swell of backlash against the administration. President Donald Trump attempted to cast blame for the practice on Democrats and as recently as Friday said that he was powerless to halt the separations.
However, he signed an executive order on Wednesday that calls for families to be detained together as adults face prosecution for entering the country illegally.
Trump’s executive action is not a permanent fix. It does not override the Flores consent decree, which means that the children could still likely be separated from their parents after 20 days. The order makes no mention of assisting in the reunification of families already torn apart by the Trump administration’s actions.
Melania Trump decided she wanted to make the trip on Tuesday, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, who said the first lady’s “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 president did not send the first lady, she made the decision on her own, her spokeswoman said.
“He is supportive of it, but she told him, ‘I’m headed down to Texas,’ and he supported it,” Grisham said.
In addition to meeting kids at the Upbring New Hope Children’s Center, part of Lutheran Social Services of the South, which is a Department of Health And Human Services-overseen facility, Trump will visit the Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center, a Customs and Border Patrol/DHS intake center where migrant families are first processed.
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