Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais is in the middle of a tough re-election campaign, but it's his comments to an 11-year-old girl gaining attention.
A video clip from a recent town meeting shows 11-year-old Josie Molina-Macaraeg telling the congressman that her father is an undocumented immigrant.
She then asks what can be done so that her dad can stay with her.
DesJarlais thanks the girl for coming forward and speaking in front of an intimidating crowd, then gives an answer that has prompted more than 80,000 video views on YouTube.
"The answer still kind of remains the same. We have laws, and we need to follow those laws, and that's where we're at," DesJarlais said, as many in the audience cheered.
"That's not an acceptable answer. We're not political footballs, you know. That kind of answer is morally reprehensible," said the girl's mother, Megan Macaraeg.
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition says Josie's father is in the midst of deportation proceedings.
"We all want families to stay together, and right now the laws we have don't work. Right now, the laws we have are separating families," said Eben Cathey, with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
It's something Josie's watched her friends go through more than once.
"I think they're really scared when a police officer comes to their door, and they're scared because they have to go back to their country where there's war and people have been killed right off the middle of the street and all this stuff," Josie said.
There are a host of people who hope Josie has now put a face on what has become a very political issue.
"This is a human issue. It's an issue that effects a lot of families in Tennessee, so I think making sure people understand that immigration reform is about keeping families together is of the utmost importance," Cathey said.
Channel 4 News reached out to the congressman's office for additional comment, and in a statement, DesJarlais said:
"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."
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