Josie Molina may be just 11 years old, but that won’t stop her from speaking out against her congressman, Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee. Last week, DesJarlais publicly told her that her father would have to be deported.
At a town hall meeting on Thursday in Murfreesboro, Josie asked in a shaky voice what she could do to keep her undocumented father, Milton, from having to go back to his native El Salvador. According to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which posted video of the exchange, Milton is currently facing deportation proceedings, which have driven the 11-year-old into therapy for anxiety.
DesJarlais thanked her for speaking up, and then said to the cheers of the crowd: “We have laws and we need to follow those laws.”
“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.”
Either DesJarlais has turned over a new leaf, or he’s not very good at following his own advice, because the lawmaker and former physician was fined in May of this year for having affairs with his patients—conduct which the Tennessee medical board found to have violated several state laws. The Huffington Post also reported last year that the Tea Party-backed Republican pressured one of his patients-turned-mistresses into getting an abortion.
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,
“I said, ‘Ok you might get attention for this, are you ready?’” said Macaraeg.
“I’m ready,” Josie said, recalling her response.
Macaraeg said she hoped her family’s lives would not turn into a political football, because for them, the threat of separation is an everyday reality.
“I’m used to it,” said Josie.
“But a little girl shouldn’t have to get used to something like that,” said her mother. “This is what courage looks like. Josie’s been really courageous, and Josie was inspired by other people, like Arturo and Alejandro, who are really courageous, and said they were undocumented, and said what they want their dreams to be. And Josie got up and said she doesn’t want to lose her dad.”
“Yeah,” said Josie, who also wanted to give a shout-out to her two heroes: Barack Obama and Selena Gomez.