A young girl received her first harsh lesson in politics last week, after receiving a very blunt answer to her question on finding a way for her undocumented father to stay in the United States.
“I have a dad and he’s undocumented, and what can I do so he can stay with me?” 11-year old Josie Molina asked Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., at his town-hall meeting in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Aug. 12, according to a video posted to YouTube on Friday.
DesJarlais praised the young girl for coming forward in the “big, intimidating crowd” but that’s where his compassion seemed to end. He told the adolescent that “the answer still kinda remains the same.”
“We have laws and we need to follow those laws, and that’s where we are at,” DesJarlais said to loud applause.
Josie, who was born in the United States, said she is “scared and worried every day” that her father may get deported.
“It really worries me that he might go to jail. Sometimes, I’m afraid they’ll take him, make him go to El Salvador,” Josie told ABC News. “Every time I’m in the car with him I’m scared they will take him. I don’t want to see that happen.”
The young girl, who lost her best friend two years ago to deportation, said she decided to ask the question because she heard two other audience members asking about immigration reform. First, a young man who aspires to be a Marine asked how he could join the military though he is undocumented. Then, a young woman who wanted to become a dental hygienist. Both questioners received answers similar to the one Josie got.
“There was a man and he announced he didn’t have any papers. … I thought, he had the guts to do it,” she said. “I wanted him to answer my question.”
Josie said she was nervous as her time in front of the microphone approached, “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what am I gonna say?’ But then it just came. I knew what to say.”
Megan Macaraeg, Josie’s mom and organizing director for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, helped bring out community members in support of immigration reform to the town hall, which was organized by tea party group, the 9-12 project. She said the decision to get up and speak was her daughters alone.
“Josie has a mind of her own. Joanna does not want anybody to tell her what to do. She was watching how it was hard. And she saw two young people get up and talk about it. But no one got up and asked about losing a family member,” Macaraeg said. “She tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Mommy I want to ask a question.’ I asked her if she was sure … and I asked her what she wants to talk about, and she said, ‘I want to ask him about my daddy.’”
An outspoken opponent of the Senate bipartisan immigration bill, DesJarlais released a statement in June following its passage comparing it to “the ObamaCare of immigration.”
“A broad, comprehensive bill fraught with unintended consequences and unexpected results,” the statement read. “I will fight to make sure this bill never reaches the floor of the United States House of Representatives.”
Macaraeg added that, for them, the issue isn’t “playing politics,” but, “because her dad is going to get deported.” She added that, for them, DesJarlais answer isn’t good enough.
“We are not going to take that as an answer,” she said. “It is morally reprehensible. And I’m not going to stop until my daughter knows her father won’t be taken away from her.”
As for Josie, she said that, although the response and the applause that followed made her ”mad and sad,” she wants to ask him again.
“I might talk to him and ask him to change his answer,” Josie said.
When asked if there was anyone else she’d like to speak to, Josie said it was a “tossup” between the president and Selena Gomez.
“Because she’s famous. And I think she’ll care. She doesn’t have parents who are undocumented, but she’s, like, Hispanic, like me,” Josie said. ”I think there’s a lot of other people going through this and I want them to know they are not the only one.”
ABC News contacted the DesJarlais’ office, which said the video showing the incident was accurate and was “not taken out of context.”
“I felt I owed Ms. Molina an honest answer to her question. We are a nation of laws and breaking those laws have consequences,” DesJarlais told ABC News in a statement. “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.”
This story was updated to reflect a new statement by Rep. DesJarlais.