A Tennessee crowd cheered after a Republican congressman told an 11-year-old girl her undocumented father would be deported.
UPDATED 8/21 10:47 a.m. ET
A Tennessee crowd cheered after a Republican congressman told an 11-year-old girl that her father would have to be deported.
The girl, identified as Josie Molina Macareg, approached the microphone at a town hall last week to ask Rep. Scott DesJarlais, “I have a dad who’s undocumented. What can I do so he can stay with me?”
DesJarlais responded, “Thank you for being here, and thank you for coming forward and speaking…the answer still kinda remains the same: we have laws and we need to follow those laws, and that’s where we’re at.”
The anti-immigration advocates in the crowd reportedly applauded and cheered in response as Josie took her seat, head down.
According to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who posted the video last week, Josie’s father is currently in the process of being deported, and the 11-year-old girl has been placed in therapy to handle her anxiety over her father’s removal.
I was hoping that he would say something that was more, like, helpful,” said Josie on MSNBC Tuesday. “I was kind of mad at him.”
In a statement given to MSNBC ahead of Tuesday’s interview with Josie Molina, DesJarlais said he was just trying to be truthful during last week’s town hall:
“I felt I owed Ms. Molina an honest answer to her question. We are a nation of laws and breaking those laws have consequences. While this country has always had a generous immigration policy, we simply cannot condone individuals coming here illegally. As a member of Congress, I strongly believe I have a responsibility to be truthful, even if that means delivering difficult news.”
Josie said Tuesday that she felt “mad” and “sad” upon hearing DesJarlais’ response, and the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction. But she shrugged her shoulders, knowing there was nothing she could do in the moment to change the outcome. “I just had to listen,” she said.
Her mother, Megan Macaraeg, said she was surprised when her daughter got up to speak, after two undocumented immigrants spoke earlier and got the same response. Macaraeg is an organizing director for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition,
DesJarlais is a former physician who was elected to the U.S. House during the Tea Party-wave of 2010 in one of the largest upsets since Tennessee’s fourth district was created in 1983. DesJarlais, who ran on conservative family values, won re-election in 2012 even after divorce transcripts revealed that he counseled both his ex-wife and his former patient whom he had an affair with into getting abortions.
MSNBC’s Emma Margolin contributed to this report.