U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais explained in a statement this morning his recent comments to an 11-year-old girl who asked what she could do to keep her undocumented father in the United States.
"I felt I owed Ms. Molina an honest answer to her question," the second-term Republican from South Pittsburg said. "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."
By Michael Cass / The Tennessean
A videotaped exchange between U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and a little girl who asked him how she could keep her undocumented father in the United States has begun to go viral, with a YouTube clip garnering nearly 43,000 views.
The 49-second clip, shot at a town hall meeting in Rutherford County last week, shows Josie Molina asking the Republican congressman what she can do so her father "can stay with me." DesJarlais thanks the girl for having the courage to ask the question in front of "a big, intimidating crowd."
Then he delivers the bad news.
"But the answer still kind of remains the same: that we have laws, and we need to follow those laws, and that's where we're at," DesJarlais says to rising applause.
Eben Cathey, a spokesman for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said Josie's father is facing deportation proceedings. Josie herself was born in the United States and is an American citizen, he said.
Cathey said Josie was one of roughly 80 immigrants who attended the town hall meeting.
In its own blog post about the exchange, Think Progress says current immigration law "is not as cut and dry as DesJarlais suggests."
"The Obama administration implemented a policy to limit enforcement that includes consideration of whether an individual has a U.S. citizen child or spouse," Esther Yu-Hsi Lee writes. "The policy also allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to focus deportations on criminal immigrants."