First Lady Melania Trump made a surprise trip to the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday to visit a detention facility where immigrant children who have been separated from their parents are being held. She flew from Joint Base Andrews to McAllen, Texas, Thursday morning and is visiting Upbring New Hope, a facility that is holding 58 children, according to CNN reporter Kate Bennett.
Bennett reports that the first lady told her staff and President Donald Trump that she is “heading to Texas,” and less than 24 hours she was at the facility that is holding children ages 5 to 17. “She wants to see what’s real,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said during a press briefing, according to CNN. “She wanted to see as close to what she had been seeing on TV. She wants to see a realistic view of what’s happening.”
Photos and videos posted to social media show her arriving in McAllen:
She was meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and other officials at the facility, according to Bennett:
“Thank you for all that you do,” she told the staffers at the facility, Bennett reports. She then asked, “How often do the children get to call and talk to their families,” and asked what state of emotional distress they are in when they arrive at the center.
In a statement, Stephanie Grisham, her communications director, said, “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. 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.”
According to its website, Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter, “was a vacant McAllen nursing home and assisted living facility when Upbring took it over and transformed the buildings and campus to help unaccompanied minors in Fall 2014. Children ages 6-17 receive lifesaving support at New Hope, including food, clothing, medical care, case management, education and psychological and spiritual care. Children at New Hope are surrounded by professional staff 24/7, which encourages their personal and academic development and empowers them with skills and resources to take the next steps toward productive lives once their legal cases are resolved.”
New Hope offers bilingual education opportunities, computer instruction, outdoor recreation, arts and crafts and spiritual care, according to its website. The facility is operated by a nonprofit, Lutheran Social Services of the South.
The website says, “At Upbring, we’re changemakers determined to create a world where all children are cherished. We understand that breaking the cycle of child abuse means more than removing children from harmful situations and providing clothing, food and shelter. Because when the cycle is broken, it means children get to live every moment of every day with every inch of their whole hearts. So you’ve got to help children heal physically, emotionally and spiritually. Upbring does this. We’ve been helping children thrive for more than 135 years, and we’re not stopping. We have an opportunity to shape not only the way we deliver our programs and services, but shape the way Texas treats children. We have Faith in Every Future.”
Melania Trump’s visit to the border comes a day after her husband signed an executive order stopping his own administration’s policy of separating children from their families, which had led to widespread criticism from voices on both sides of the aisle. Trump had previously claimed it was up to Congress to fix the issue. There was a sharp increase in the amount of children taken away from their parents after Trump’s administration started a “zero tolerance” policy that led to criminal charges against anyone caught illegally crossing the border.