I attended a townhall on Saturday, August 17, 2013 in Ithaca, NY, held by Republican Congressman Tom Reed (NY-23).

Reed is a “moderate” Republican. On immigration he’s against a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens, but open to a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” and some manner of legal status for illegals.

I arrived fairly early for the 8 a.m. start time, and the first few rows already were taken up by pro-immigration reform supporters, carrying signs from the Amnesty International and a union group.

Questions had to be submitted in writing (although as it developed, there was a lot of give and take with the audience).

The first question was about immigration, and the moderator from Reed’s staff indicated that there were multiple questions along the same lines — what would happen to the American citizen children of undocumented immigrants if the parents were deported, and would Reed be willing to adopt such children.

“An estimated 5 million U.S. citizen children have an undocumented parent.  Guest worker programs do not keep those families together.  Do you believe these parents should be deported, and if so, do you believe their U.S. citizen kids should be put in foster care or get deported too.  Would you consider adopting one of those kids?

It was at once a brilliant and ridiculous question, supposing that the problem is enforcement of the law not the person who broke the law to come here and later had children. It also supposes that the parent would leave the child behind in the U.S. — what kind of parent would do that?

Reed appeared surprised by the question, and basically deflected it by joking that he’d have to run it by his wife and restating his position on amnesty:

The woman who asked the question was carrying an Amnesty International sign, and indicated that she advocated a comprehensive immigration reform that “preserve[s] family unity rather than tearing families apart” (video interview here).

There also was a tracker from the New York State Democratic Party filming the whole thing. I approached her after the session to ask whether she would be sharing the video with the campaign of Reed’s Emily’s List-backed opponent, Martha Robertson, but she declined to answer other than to insist that she was there on behalf of the NYS Democratic Party.

(Tom Reed Town Hall - NYS Democratic Party Tracker - wearing black)

(Tom Reed Town Hall – NYS Democratic Party Tracker – wearing black)

After the session I thought to myself, clearly the question was part of an organized effort, otherwise why would multiple people submit the same question? But I didn’t think it was that big a deal, maybe some local activists.

Then today I saw this article at BuzzFeed about a town hall held by Tennessee Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais, Young Girl Tells Republican Congressman Her Father Is An Undocumented Immigrant:

“I have a dad, and he’s undocumented, what can I do so that he can stay with me,” the young girl asks.

“Thank you for being here and thank you for coming forward and speaking this is a big intimidating crowd and appreciate you coming forward and asking your question but the answer still kinda remains the same. We have laws, and we need to follow those laws and ya know, that’s where we’re at,” the Congressman said to applause.

That same video is being circulated by groups sites like Progressive Populist, which describes the little girl as “trembling” and asserts that she is in therapy due to the deportation:

Josie’s father is currently in deportation proceedings and she is undergoing therapy to deal with the anxiety.

Daily Kos also hyped that the girl was “scared.”

The light bulb went on.

It couldn’t be coincidence that in two townhalls, almost a thousand miles apart, similar questions were asked within days of each other meant to make the Republican look heartless to some young child for the possible break up of a family due to deportation of an illegal immigrant parent.

Some quick research revealed similar questions were asked at a town hall held by Paul Ryan, via JSOnline (via Hot Air):

Coming face-to-face with activists, immigrants and the children of undocumented immigrants, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan on Friday laid out his proposals to achieve a consensus in Congress and push through long-sought reform of the nation’s immigration laws….

…. Another “dreamer,” Valeria Ruiz, 17, of Racine, prodded the congressman on deportations that divide families.

According to the Facebook page of Voces de la Frontera, a Wisconsin anti-deportation group, the precise question to Ryan was:

 “What are you going to do to stop the separation of families, for those of us that live in fear everyday due to unjust deportations.”

Earlier in July, Representative Bob Goodlatte confronted similar questions at a town hall, via Bloomberg (h/t Dave Weigel):

A key House Republican in the debate over revising immigration policy said he would consider offering some young people brought illegally to the U.S. as children a chance to become citizens.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte made the comments at a town hall meeting last night in Lynchburg, Virginia, following a teary plea from a 16-year-old high school student whose parents are undocumented immigrants.

“People like you should be addressed,” Goodlatte told Dulce Elias, who said she came to the U.S. from Mexico as a 3-year-old. “Maybe for someone like you,” legislation “could include a path to citizenship,” he said.

Even where there is no direct question about deporting parents, groups like Think Progress are spinning Republican positions on immigration using the same theme of deporting parents:

Think Progress Deport Parents

There probably are many other examples that just don’t get picked up on the mainstream media — like my experience at Tom Reed’s town hall.

And sure enough, none of this is coincidence.

The “Don’t Deport My Dad” theme (and variations on it) has been developing for months.   For Father’s Day 2013, a Don’t Deport My Father website was launched by various community organizing groups.

Don't Deport My Dad Website - Imagine if your dad was arrested

There were vigils organized and rallies in various states, and even a Don’t Deport My Dad petition at Change.org.  The ACLU highlighted the movement as did Church World Service.

The American Federation of Teachers is organizing groups to attend town halls on the issue of deportation of family members, and presumably other groups are as well.

There are numerous Don’t Deport My Dad type videos uploaded to YouTube, including this one uploaded a few days ago by the website Dream Activist:

Although Don’t Deport My Dad seems to predominate, there also are Don’t Deport My Mom activities too:

Don't Deport My Mom - Reuters

The theme is being picked up by Democratic Congressmen, like Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Children brought into United States illegally refuse to leave their parents  behind

It’s about the more than 5,000 U.S. citizen children who are currently living  with strangers in foster care because their parents were deported.

For their sake and for the sake of millions of other families, we need fair and  just immigration reform. Legislative proposals that separate Dreamers from their  parents and siblings are contrary to our American values and create an uncertain  future for these young people if their parents are deported.

There is a reason why Democrats and supportive groups which want all-out amnesty for everyone are so focused on the issue of family unification.

If it takes just a single person in a family having legal status to avoid deportation of the entire family, amnesty supporters will have found a back-door way to bring in almost everyone on “humanitarian” grounds. Indeed, the Senate Gang of 8 Bill has extensive family reunification provisions.

A fear on the Democratic side is that the position being espoused by Republicans of being sympathetic to the plight of “Dreamers” not only sounds too reasonable to too many people, it deprives Democrats of the sweeping amnesty they want.  Dave Weigel writes at Slate.com:

It’s a beautiful thing, the birth of a talking point. As they fan out across their districts taking questions from constituents, Republicans are largely avoiding the sort of chaos that dogged Democrats in 2009. (The surge of angry citizens at that summer’s town hall meetings dragged down support for Obamacare more than the party wanted to admit.) But they are encountering young, sympathetic people who ask whether the government wants to deport them. The answer is universal: Hey, you guys might OK….

From southeast Texas, in the district that was shored up for Rep. Blake Farenthold after redistricting:

“There are some people facing deportation that were brought here as very young children, they speak only English, they’re the victims,” he said. “We’ve spent all this money educating them, we need their productivity.”

The Congressman said he also supports an end to “birthright citizenship” — the notion that anyone born on U.S. soil is automatically a citizen — as a way of slowing down “chain immigration.”

That last bit isn’t part of the the messaging, but no matter— here’s how Republicans are trying to short-circuit the emotionally powerful appeal of DREAMers and young ‘uns.

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, who is very attuned to the Democratic Party strategies, writes that the Republican tactic is unacceptable and a risk to Democrats:

The preferred option for some Republicans — create a path to citizenship only for the DREAMers — wouldn’t even begin to grapple with this question for the rest of the 11 million.

The Democrats want those 11 million new voters.  And if it means sending young children to townhalls to ask “Why do you want to deport my daddy?,” then that’s what will be done.

And there will be trackers at every event waiting for a Republican to flub the answer.

Related post: American Bridge to follow even more Republicans around in 2014 and 2016.


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