Families Divided

Melania Trump visits separated migrant children in McAllen, Texas

The first lady "supports family reunification" and wanted to meet separated children for herself, a spokesperson said.

First lady Melania Trump and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar (left) listen during a roundtable meeting at the Lutheran Social Services of the South's Upbring New Hope Children's Center in McAllen on June 21, 2018.
First lady Melania Trump and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar (left) listen during a roundtable meeting at the Lutheran Social Services of the South's Upbring New Hope Children's Center in McAllen on June 21, 2018.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Families Divided

The Trump administration's “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led to the separation of children from adults who crossed the border illegally, has fueled a national outcry. Sign up for our ongoing coverage. Send story ideas to tips@texastribune.org.

 More in this series 

First lady Melania Trump made an unannounced trip to the border on Thursday, visiting a children's shelter in McAllen.

"She supports family reunification," said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, according to a pool report from The Dallas Morning News. “She thinks that it’s important that children stay with their families.”

Trump toured the Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter, a facility officials said currently houses 55 children between the ages of 12 and 17, according to the pool report. Six of those children had been separated from their parents; the rest had arrived unaccompanied, the officials said. Trump held a roundtable discussion livestreamed by The Washington Post with shelter workers before the tour, thanking them for their “heroic work” taking care of the children and asking how she could help “these children reunite with their families as quickly as possible.”

The message, “Acts of kindness make me bloom,” was printed in bright yellow letters on the wall behind Trump.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

When asked how often the children get to speak with their parents or family, program director Rogelio de la Cerda Jr. told Trump they get a 10-minute phone call twice a week.

“We provide a lot of structure,” de la Cerda said. “We try to educate them, we try to assimilate them to what the public school environment is like. They refer to this as a shelter, but this is their home.”

At the shelter, Trump visited three classrooms, shaking hands and asking the children questions about themselves, according to the pool report. One child told her she’d been there for two months.

“Be kind and nice to each other, OK?” Trump told the children.

In one classroom, “Welcome! First Lady” was written on a white board draped with a hand-painted U.S. flag. A child in the classroom told Trump they had been learning how to celebrate the Fourth of July.

The first lady also planned to tour the Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center, but the visit was canceled because of flooding at the center.

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

As of Wednesday, more than 2,300 immigrant children had been separated from their parents who crossed the border illegally. Changing course on his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday afternoon halting separations.

The first lady began planning her trip on Tuesday, Grisham told reporters. Grisham said she was not sure whether the first lady had been aware of the president’s upcoming executive order. 

“This was her decision,” Grisham said. “She told [the president,] ‘I’m headed down to Texas,’ and he supported it.”

Disclosure: Upbring has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.