WASHINGTON – First lady Melania Trump is visiting a migrant child shelter in Texas on Thursday making the unannounced visit to Texas the day after President Donald Trump reversed his policy of separating children from parents crossing the border either illegally or seeking asylum.
A statement from Mrs. Trump’s communications director, issued after Mrs. Trump was already in McAllen, Texas, said she made the trip “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. 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.”
On Thursday evening Mrs. Trump said in a statement, “Today’s visit impacted me greatly. I was very impressed with the center and the hardworking staff and leadership there – and thank them for all of their hard work. The children were eager to learn and were kind and in good spirits. Spending time with them reinforces the fact that these kids are in this situation as a direct result of adult actions. It is my hope that Members of Congress will finally reach across the aisle and work together to solve this problem with common sense immigration reform that secures our borders and keeps families together.”
Trump, in issuing his executive order on Wednesday, said Mrs. Trump told him she opposed his family separation policy.
Here is the pool report from Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News:
FLOTUS planned to tour two facilities, both in McAllen: The Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center, a Customs and Border Patrol/DHS intake center where migrant families spend a few days, and Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter, part of Lutheran Social Services. That’s an HHS grantee facility that currently houses about 60 kids, ages five to 17, from Honduras and El Salvador. Most are teens. About evenly split between boys and girls. Only six of these kids were separated from parents, and the rest arrived as unaccompanied minors, according to a “senior administration official.”
The shelter opened in 2014 in a facility that had been a vacant nursing home and assisted living facility.
Heavy rain caused a last-minute change of plans, with flooding at the Border Patrol center. So we’re heading to the children’s center first. We landed in McAllen at 10:50 am CT in a heavy downpour — a gully-washer, as they say in Texas. A flash flood warning alert sounded on phones a moment after landing. Motorcade drove through deep water at several points.
A press pool is traveling with the first lady, including wires, stills and TV. Ground rules included secrecy until FLOTUS arrived at her first stop in Texas. The pool wasn’t told what city we were going to until after takeoff. The tours will be pen and pad only for the pool. No photos or audio, for the safety and privacy of children, we are told.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is traveling with FLOTUS.
At Andrews, Mrs. Trump boarded the plane wearing white pants, white top, white sneakers, sunglasses, and a green jacket.
Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, gaggled shortly after takeoff. All material below is from her:
The trip – why, when it came together
FLOTUS asked her staff on Tuesday to plan a trip as soon as possible – before POTUS signed the executive order, though Grisham wasn’t sure if Mrs. Trump had an inkling that the order was coming.
“I don’t know what she knew. She knew what she wanted to do and she told us,” Grisham said.
“She wanted to see everything for herself…. She supports family reunification. She thinks that it’s important that children stay with their families.”
“This was 100 percent her idea. She absolutely wanted to come.” And it was her idea before POTUS signed the executive order, Grisham said, and she had no second thoughts after the order was signed. “She wants to see what’s happening for herself and she wants to lend her support, executive order or not. The executive order certainly is helping pave the way a little bit, but there’s still a lot to be done.”
President Trump supported this trip but he didn’t send her.
“This was her decision. She told her staff she wanted to go and we made that happen. He is supportive of it but she told him, `I’m headed down to Texas,’ and he supported it.”
The Air Force plane, a C-32A, landed at McAllen Miller International Airport. (Something your pooler learned only today: the first lady’s plane is designated “Executive One Foxtrot.”)
Is she doing this trip in order to persuade the president to do anything differently? “She wants to see these children and she wants to help children. It’s not about anything more than that…. She wants to see what’s real. She wants to see a realistic view.”
On the executive order and how and when it’s implemented:
As agencies await guidance on how to implement the executive order, and some kids remain separated: “While we’re going through that process she’s going to lend her support and promote family reunification and I’m sure she’ll continue to give her husband opinions on what she’s thinking along the way,” Grisham said.
Grisham said FLOTUS supports reunifying families that are currently separated but doesn’t have a deadline in mind: “The executive order was signed yesterday. Guidance has to be given to a lot of the agencies. She’s going to be talking to Secretary Azar and Secretary Nielsen… I’m sure she’s going to continue to give her husband opinions on what she’s thinking should happen.”
“I’m sure she’ll continue to let her husband know her opinions. She does that often.”
FLOTUS definitely wants to see the kids reunited. “She’ll do everything she can and she’ll speak her opinions as much as she can.”
Odds and ends
Does FLOTUS support zero-tolerance enforcement policy? “She supports that the law should be followed.”
Does the fact that she’s an immigrant influence her views? “I don’t know that it plays into her thinking but I can tell you guys that when she came into this country she did it legally and she feels that everybody should enter the country legally,” Grisham said.
FLOTUS did not communicate with any previous first lady about their chorus of condemnation. “Not that I know of.”
Food from the cancelled congressional picnic: “All perishable items are being donated to Walter Reed. Any non-perishable items will be repurposed for future events.”
Has she seen the images?
“She’s seen the images. She’s heard the recordings… She was on top of the situation before any of that came out. She was concerned about it.”
Noted that images of kids behind chain link fence were at an intake facility where kids were only held briefly. Still she said, “The images struck her, as a mother, as a human being.”
Separate from Grisham’s gaggle, a “senior administration official” also briefed the pool.
The official gave some of the background on the facilities and kids FLOTUS will see.
HHS funds and regulates such facilities. It’s a permanent facility. No non-teens are housed in tents or other non-permanent facility. The director has cared for immigrant children for decades. On average, the children are with HHS for about 58 days. The goal is to use case management to get children placed with appropriate sponsors. About half the time the kids get placed with their parents. 40 percent are placed with another relative in the US. About 10 percent go to foster care, or to family friends or volunteer sponsors.
Grantees provide education, athletics, medical and dental and mental health care.
“We try to provide them with a safe and happy environment while they are with us,” the SAO said, adding that the kids are dealt with “a great deal of compassion and sense of mission.”
Communications with their parents? HHS tries, and is itself trying to find the parents or other relatives to place the kids with.
As for the 2,000 or so kids currently held by the HHS Office of Resettlement: “We continue with the process of caring for them and case management” to find sponsors “as expeditiously as possible.” If the parents are released from custody they can be placed with their parents or other relatives.
Asked about news reports that “tender age” migrant children aren’t allowed by be hugged: “We do not have any policies that prevent the normal humane compassionate treatment of children,” the official said. State laws protecting children are obviously in place but “We are aware of no restriction that would prevent the normal appropriate physical contact with tender age children, including hugging, holding nurturing, any of that. I do not know the basis of that individual statement… It certainly is not coming from us.”
The SAO indicated that restrictions on photography of detained kids is entirely to protect their safety and privacy.
FLOTUS POOL REPORT 2
Visit to Border Patrol facility scrapped due to flooding.
The first lady spent roughly 75 minutes at the Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter.
Updated numbers and details: 55 children here at the moment. 27 boys, 28 girls. Ages from 12 to 17. Most are from Guatemala. We were told earlier that all but 6 were unaccompanied minors, with the rest having been separated.
The first lady interacted with dozens of kids, visiting three classrooms. Per ground rules we have no audio or photos of these interactions.
In classroom #1, Mrs. Trump shook hands. There was laughter and lots of smiles. Three girls in the back row, hairs in buns, were smiling a lot. A boy in the front row had a Spanish-English dictionary in front of him. Many of the kids wore gray T-shirts that said “We Are One” with we in red, are in white and one in blue.
She asked individually where they were from, how long they’d been there. She spoke in English. Some responded in English. Others, the teacher translated for Mrs. Trump.
“How long are you here? … Where are you from?” To kids in a row together “Are you all friends?”
As she left she said, “Be kind and nice to other, ok? Nice to meet you.” And then she helped them resume their counting exercise they’d been doing before she got there, chanting “62, 63, 64, 65”
In classroom #2, next door, the children were learning about angles and lines. The teacher explained a contest to build model bridges to Mrs. Trump. Kids worked in groups of four and whichever bridge held the most weight wins.
“Bubye. Good luck,” FLOTUS said. The kids applauded as she left.
About 22 kids per classrooms 1 and 2.
In classroom 3, a poster of US presidents that went through George W. Bush was on the wall to the right of the door. A hand painted US flag covered the white wipe board. It read “Welcome! First lady”
The board indicated this was ELA class. Objectives include practicing the alphabet, days of the week, and names of the months. 12 kids in this room. All girls. She asked where they were from. One said she’d been here for two months. Another told her they were learning how to celebrate the Fourth of July.
They each signed to flag to give to her.Aides began to roll it up but the plan changed. FLOTUS signed it herself before leaving, to leave behind as a gift. They each had closed laptops on the table in front of them.
Teacher said they worked on vocabulary.
Cheerful colorful posters and kid artwork on the walls of the hall.
Flotus asked what kinds of music they like in classroom 3.
“They like to dance a lot,” the teacher said. Flotus asked for a demonstration but then laughed. “Th is is a serious class…. so study hard” and be kind to each other. Friendship she said “is very important.”
She then moved to the nurses office for a briefing on medical care. Pool headed to vans.
Motorcade rolled at 12:35 pm CT. Lots of flooding in the streets though the rain has subsided.