TUCSON, Ariz - Melania Trump made a second trip to a border state Thursday to meet face to face with those dealing with her husband's hard-line immigration policies. This time, she chose less controversial apparel.
"I'm here to support you and give my help, whatever I can" on "behalf of children and the families," Mrs. Trump said as she sat down with officials at a U.S. Border Patrol facility in Tucson, her first stop.
It was the first lady's second trip to a border state amid an ongoing outcry over her husband's now-suspended policy of separating migrant children from their families when they cross the border illegally. Many have yet to be reunited.
"She cares about children deeply and when the news started to hit, I think she was very concerned and wanted to make sure the kids are being well taken care of," spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said on the flight. "She doesn't like to see parents and kids separated."
Mrs. Trump made the trip in a risk-averse ensemble of a black sweater and white slacks.
The first lady's first trip to the region had been overshadowed by a jacket she wore on the way to and from the border town of McAllen, Texas, that had a baffling message on the back: "I really don't care, do u?"
The choice ignited the internet and spawned a slew of memes about what the first lady, a former model, may have meant. Her spokeswoman said it was just a jacket, with no hidden message. But the first lady's husband, President Donald Trump, undercut the no-message message by tweeting that his wife was saying she really doesn't care about the "fake news" media.
On Thursday, Mrs. Trump visited what officials described as a short-term holding center for migrant minors in Tucson and then traveled to Phoenix, where she was expected to visit a Department of Health and Human Services facility.
She attended a roundtable and toured an intake facility in Tucson, about an hour from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Grisham said the first lady "really wants to learn" about the border processes making news around the world.
Asked whether the first lady agrees with her husband's polices, Grisham said, "She definitely believes in strong border laws" and wants Congress to strengthen immigration policies. But she also believes in "governing with heart," Grisham said.
Protesters spent Thursday morning outside a facility for detained children in Tucson that's operated by the nonprofit Southwest Key. But Mrs. Trump instead met with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol and customs officers.
Protestors were eager to show the First Lady how they oppose the president's immigration policies.
But they never had the chance.
Protestors gathered around a former motel converted to house the immigrant children.
A Federal contractor called Southwest Key has run the facility for about four years since the Obama administration used this place and others like it to house a surge of unaccompanied immigrant children in 2014.
Now it's part of the story of children separated from their parents as they enter the U-S illegally.
Jane Brinkerhoff lives in a tall building that gives her a view into the complex.
"And I've been watching the children for two years now but in the last 20 days there have been little bitty children out there like under five, maybe even four; and they try to keep them entertained, keep it cool but you can tell they're very unhappy. They look like inmates, walking down with their heads down all depressed."
Southwest Key says little about the shelter. KGUN9 found City of Tucson records that show it's licensed to house about 325 people. As Southwest Key recruits workers, job descriptions show it has education programs, takes the children to movies, parks and museums, and expects workers to control unruly children.
Annita Clark also lives near the shelter. She thinks splitting children from parents and holding them in a shelter teaches young minds the wrong lessons.
“You get hatred. They're gonna hate, and that's wrong. We need to take the hatred out of this country because that's what's building up so badly here."
Protestors hope to send a message to the First Lady but did not get the chance. She limited her Tucson visit to the Border Patrol station at Davis-Monthan.
Anticipating a possible trip to Phoenix, protesters also gathered outside a Southwest Key facility in the city's west side.
More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents at the border in recent weeks and some were placed in government-contracted shelters hundreds of miles away from their parents.
The president last week signed an executive order to halt the separation of families at the border, at least for a few weeks, but the order did not address the reunification of families already separated.
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered that thousands of migrant children and parents be reunited within 30 days - and sooner if the youngster is under 5. The order poses logistical problems for the administration, and it was unclear how it would meet the deadline.