ABC News(MCALLEN, Texas) — First lady Melania Trump traveled to Texas Thursday in an unannounced visit to a social services center amid a crisis over migrant children being forcibly separated from their parents as a result of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.
“I’m glad I’m here, and I’m looking forward to seeing the children,” she said at a roundtable with center workers. “But, first of all, let me begin to recognize each of you and thanking you for all that you do, for your heroic work that you do every day and what you do for those children. We all know they’re here without their families, and I want to thank you for your hard work.”
The center currently houses 55 children, most between the ages of 12 and 17. Facility officials said the majority of the children come without their parents — so-called unaccompanied minors — but some had been separated from families. The first lady asked about their mental state when they first arrive, and was told they are usually distraught but begin to relax after 24 hours.
The visit comes a day after President Trump, through executive order, halted the policy that has resulted in the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents who illegally crossed the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
Melania Trump had personally lobbied her husband in recent days to put an end to the family separations and had multiple private conversations with him on the topic, a White House official said. The president’s daughter and White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, had also privately expressed her concerns about the policy to the president.
The president cited his wife and daughter’s strong feelings on the issue as a factor in his decision to end the family separations, even as he vowed to continue his administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that calls for the criminal prosecution of any adult found crossing into the country illegally.
“Ivanka feels very strongly. My wife feels very strongly about it. I feel very strongly about it,” the president said in remarks as he signed the executive order Wednesday. “I think anybody with a heart would feel very strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated. At the same time, we don’t want people coming into our country illegally. This takes care of the problem.”
Over the weekend, Mrs. Trump had also issued a statement through her spokeswoman expressing her dislike of the family separations, even as she stopped short of rebuking her husband’s policy.
“Mrs. Trump 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 first lady’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, said in a Sunday statement.
All four living former first ladies also went public in condemning the family separations, with former first lady Laura Bush calling the practice “immoral” and likening it to American-Japanese internment camps during World War II.
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