News of the migrant crisis at the border has grieved American families thinking of how they'd feel if they were similarly torn apart. But no member of Trump's family had actually gone to see the president's "zero-tolerance" policy in action — until now. Melania Trump went to the border in McAllen, Texas, on Thursday to see the aftermath of the family separation for herself.
CNN reports that Trump decided to make the trip less than 48 hours ago and did not announce it to the public in advance. But she made sure that her visit would be televised, asking the network to broadcast parts of it live.
"She wants to see what's real," Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's spokeswoman, told 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."
The first stage of her trip, at least, didn't actually seem destined to give her a full, "realistic" picture of what's been happening at the border. Her first stop was at McAllen's Upbring New Hope Children's Center, a social services facility overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Sixty children are being housed there — but the majority of them arrived at the border unaccompanied, which means that they aren't among the approximately 2,342 children who were subjected to the Trump administration's former family separation policy. An official told CNN that only six of the kids there were separated from their parents.
What's more, all of the kids at the HHS facility are between the ages of 5 and 17. One of the strongest surges of public outrage over the family separation policy occurred in response to the "tender age" shelters that were created to house children under the age of 12, including many babies and toddlers. One mother even had her baby daughter ripped away from her while she was in the middle of breastfeeding.
CNN reports that the Trump administration hand-picked the facility that Melania Trump would visit. It chose one that has relatively good conditions — rooms, not cages, and with programs and projects for the kids — compared to some others. Last week, the Trump administration announced its intention to build a "tent city" to hold thousands of children.
But the second leg of her trip seemed to have the potential to provide a more revealing glimpse at what family separation at the border has looked like. After visiting the HHS Center, the first lady was scheduled to go to a customs and border processing center, according to her office. The New York Post reports that it will be the now-infamous "Ursula" facility in McAllen, and if conditions there now are anything like what they have been, they'll be much worse than at the HHS facility.
Photos from "Ursula" have shown children being kept in cages with big sheets of foil for blankets. When Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) visited Ursula, he called it "nothing short of a prison." Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) called it "the dog kennel."
Trump spoke to HHS facility workers before beginning her tour on Thursday. "We all know they are here without their families," she said, referring to the children, "and I want to thank you for your hard work, your compassion, and your kindness you're giving them in these difficult times."
The first lady's office said that one purpose of Trump's trip was to allow her to thank these workers. "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," her office said in a statement to The Hill on Thursday.
Grisham told CNN that Trump made the decision to visit the border herself. "This was 100 percent her idea," she said. "She wanted to come down." And as far as her relaying her findings there to Donald Trump, Grisham says, "She will continue to update her husband."