First lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpFormer aide sees Melania Trump as 'the doomed French queen': book If another 9/11 happened in a divided 2021, could national unity be achieved again? Former Trump aide Stephanie Grisham planning book: report MORE on Thursday made a surprise trip to Texas to meet immigrant children separated from their families due to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.
The visit comes one day after President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE signed an executive order intended to end the practice of separating families who illegally cross the U.S. southern border, which was widely condemned at home and abroad.
White House officials said the first lady urged the president to keep families together, which may have played a role in Trump’s decision to change his mind.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the immigrant children. ... We all know they're here without their families and I want to thank you for your hard work, your kindness and your compassion you're giving them in these hard times,” Melania Trump told workers at the Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter in the border city of McAllen.
The shelter currently houses about 55 kids, ages 5 to 17, mostly from Guatemala. Six of the children were separated from parents, and the rest arrived as unaccompanied minors, according to a senior administration official.
Melania Trump asked shelter staff how she “can help these children to reunite with their families as quickly as possible.”
The administration has not set up a formal process to reunite the more than 2,300 children in detention facilities with their families.
At the shelter, the first lady shook hands with groups of children in classrooms telling them to “be nice and kind to each other.” As she left the facility, she wished the detained children “good luck.”
Children signed a U.S. flag to give to the first lady as a gift, but she instead signed it herself and left it for them to keep. Her visit lasted roughly 75 minutes.
The first lady was also scheduled to visit a Border Patrol processing center where immigrant families are held, but that was scrapped due to flooding. That facility is where children were photographed being kept in metal cage-like structures, images that helped cause the uproar over the administration's policy.
Thursday’s trip marks a rare instance of Melania Trump weighing in on a contentious policy debate involving her husband.
The first lady, who has focused her agenda on children, is using a tone that stands in stark contrast to the president, who has warned that migrants will “infest our country” if stricter border security measures aren’t passed.
Stephanie Grisham, communications director for the first lady, said Melania Trump asked her staff on Tuesday to plan the border trip as soon as possible — one day before her husband signed the executive order.
“This was 100 percent her idea. She absolutely wanted to come,” Grisham told reporters traveling with the first lady. “She wants to see what’s happening for herself and she wants to lend her support, executive order or not.”
Grisham said the president supported the trip but he didn’t send the first lady down to the border.
“He is supportive of it but she told him, 'I’m headed down to Texas,’ and he supported it,” she said.
Updated at 3:04 p.m.