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.
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"I'm glad I'm here and I'm looking forward to seeing the children," she said at a roundtable with doctors and workers at the Upbring New Hope Children's Center, part of Lutheran Social Services of the South. "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."
Mrs. Trump said she also wanted to ask them "how I can help to be sure these children reunite with their families as quickly as possible."
According to a pool report, the center currently houses 55 children, most between the ages of 12-17. 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 after 24 hours begin to relax.
The pool report says the first lady has a translator with her to talk to the children who do not speak English, though many appear to have a grasp of English. She visited a series of side-by-side classrooms with rows of table desks with colorful drawings of landscapes, animals, and flowers decorating the walls.
In the first classroom where children, mostly girls, were studying math, Mrs. Trump shook some hands and told them: "Be kind and nice to each other, OK?" and the girls giggled, the report said. She asked them: "Are you trying to learn to speak English?" and most nodded.
In the second classroom of boys, she told them: "Work hard, study hard, it is very important." The students applauded for her as she left.
And in the third classroom, the first lady greeted girls sitting around a large table. A large, homemade American flag on the wall painted by students said "Welcome First Lady!" on it in big black letters.
The visit comes a day after President Trump, through executive order, halted the policy that has resulted in the separation of over 2,300 children from their parents who illegally crossed the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
The president commented on his wife's trip just as the first video of her in Texas was being televised. He said she wanted to go because the situation "really bothered her."
"We're all bothered by it," Trump said, speaking to reporters at a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
Mrs. 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.