Watch: Demonstrators Greet Melania Trump as She Visits Phoenix Children's Shelter

Demonstrators protested outside of a Southwest Key shelter for migrant kids in Phoenix as First Lady Melania Trump visited the shelter on Thursday.
Demonstrators protested outside of a Southwest Key shelter for migrant kids in Phoenix as First Lady Melania Trump visited the shelter on Thursday. Joseph Flaherty

By the time First Lady Melania Trump rolled up to a child-migrant shelter as part of a swarm of SUVs, police cruisers, and cops on motorcycles, the Phoenix activists were ready to meet her.

"Melania Trump is guilty, guilty," they chanted before she arrived. "The whole damn system's guilty, guilty."

It was the first lady's second visit to facilities housing migrant kids in two weeks. On Thursday morning, Melania Trump flew to Tucson and met with officials from the U.S. Border Patrol, then visited a temporary holding facility for migrant youth before continuing on by plane to Phoenix.

Demonstrators with the migrant-rights organization Puente showed up at the shelter before the first lady arrived at 12:30 p.m. They inflated a giant blow-up avatar of Donald Trump, with a cartoonish version of the president in a KKK outfit, gripping the white hood in front of him.

Activists said that Melania Trump was not welcome.

"We're not going to allow her to continue to humiliate our migrant communities," said Puente organizer Maria Castro in an interview. "She's making a mockery of the pain that our people are going through."

Puente is demanding the abolishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, Castro said.

The first lady's visit to Phoenix stemmed from the crisis surrounding President Trump's "zero-tolerance" prosecution policy of migrant families who cross the U.S.-Mexico border. After federal officials began separating families in May and sending kids to shelters while their parents awaited prosecution, the public reacted with outrage.
On June 20, Trump walked back the policy by issuing an executive order allowing families to remain together in detention. However, there is still widespread confusion about how families will stay together and whether more than 2,000 kids who have been separated so far will be reunited with their parents.

The first lady visited another shelter for detained immigrants in McAllen, Texas, last week. During that trip, she made the astonishing fashion choice to travel in a jacket that said, "I really don't care, do u?" on the back.

At the Tucson border patrol processing center, Melania Trump was shown an image of a 6-year-old boy whom agents reportedly rescued recently after finding the boy with a note just north of the border.

According to the Arizona Republic, Trump examined the photo, shaking her head. She said, “It’s incredible, as young as 6 years old, you know, someone would leave them.”

Police repeatedly warned several dozen demonstrators on Campbell Avenue to stay on the sidewalk as they gathered in front of the Southwest Key facility housing migrant children. Kids on the stairs and balcony of a neighboring apartment complex ran and played tag as the adults craned their necks to get a glimpse of what was happening at the migrant shelter next door.

Among the protesters on the street was Leah Sarat, a 38-year-old volunteer and Phoenix resident who has worked with asylum-seekers from Central America. Sarat said that if Melania Trump really cared about the children, she would listen to their families to learn why they are fleeing their homes to the U.S.

“If she could only open her eyes and take a look at the reality — really listen to people — I think we'd have a different picture here," she said.

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Demonstrators protested outside of a Southwest Key shelter for migrant kids in Phoenix as First Lady Melania Trump visited the shelter on Thursday.
Joseph Flaherty
Sarat didn’t know much about Southwest Key, but believes the staff "did the best they could with limited resources" to support children during previous spikes in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border.

Now, the situation is different, Sarat said: Minors are being taken away from their families by the government.

“I think the underlying reality is they should be with families,” she said.

Southwest Key has received approximately $1.5 billion over the past decade in federal funding for programs, including housing, for migrant youth. The nonprofit has eight shelters and 13 licensed facilities total in Arizona, according to a spokesperson for the organization, and operates other facilities in Texas and California.

One woman in a green sedan drove by the shelter, leaned her head out of the window and yelled: "Fuck Trump!" The protesters cheered and yelled the same back in response.

Melania Trump was inside the facility and out of view for about an hour. After police opened the Southwest Key facility gate, the motorcade vehicles sped down the street toward the highway.

The group of protesters hoisted their signs and jogged after them.
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty

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