Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spent a good portion of his CNN town hall lying to people, but, in one moment of carefully-cloaked honesty, he told disturbing truths to a mother who is worried about being deported under President-elect Donald Trump.
At CNN’s town hall with Speaker Paul Ryan Thursday night, moderator Jake Tapper introduced Angelica Villalobos, who stood with her young daughter at her side. Villalobos, who was brought to America when she was 11 years old and is currently protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, asked Ryan if he thought she should be deported, separating her from her daughter. Despite his attempt to appear compassionate, Ryan’s responses betrayed his icy lack of sympathy.
Using carefully-worded language, he delivered the least-reassuring answers imaginable, and even, incredibly, laughed at the notion of a “deportation force” that President-elect Donald Trump has promised over and over to implement. Here are the lowlights (emphasis mine, full transcript here):
ANGELICA VILLALOBOS: Thank you, Speaker Ryan. My name is Angelica Villalobos. I’m undocumented. I’ve been — like he mentioned, I’ve been, I live in the State of Oklahoma. I’m here with one of my daughters, Destiny. I’ve been in the United States for 21 years. I am protected from deportation because of the DACA program. To be protected, I applied, went through a background check, and I paid almost nearly $1,000 in fees. It’s clear that if DACA gets repealed, my daughter will lose her mother. And — I’m sorry. She will lose her mother and I want you to know that DACA has helped me. What do you — do you think that I should be deported and many families in my situation should?
RYAN: No. No, Angelica. First of all, I can see that you love your daughter and you are a nice person who has a great future ahead of you and I hope your future is here. I’ll even repeat the sentiment that our incoming president says. That’s the problem he wants to focus on. This is not the focus.
And so, what we have to do is find a way to make sure that you can get right with the law and we’ve got to do this in a good way, so that the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under you and your family gets separated. That’s the way we feel and that is exactly what our new incoming president has stated he wants to do.
But if you’re worried about, you know, some deportation force coming, knocking on your door this year, don’t worry about that.
TAPPER: The government has information about her now. What happens to that information? Will you introduce legislation to block it from being used to deport her?
RYAN: No — everybody thinks that there’s some deportation force that’s being assembled. That’s not happening.
TAPPER: President-Elect Trump actually used the term deportation force.
RYAN: (Laughs) That’s not happening.
TAPPER: But that’s why people think it.
RYAN: I know, I know. And I’m here to tell you, in Congress, it’s not happening. And what’s happening is — where did she go? What’s happening is that’s what he’s asked us to focus on, that’s where we’re focusing on. Secure the border and the people who are violent criminals, repeat offenders who keep coming back in, we’ve got to focus on that. That’s what we’re focusing on.
Shareblue’s Melissa McEwan aptly described this exchange, saying, “The juxtaposition of the abject fear on Villalobos’ face and Ryan’s glib banter with Tapper is utterly infuriating. Even when faced with real people whose real lives will be affected by Republican policies, he endeavors to shut himself off from their plaintive emotion.”
Unfortunately, Ryan could not do so without letting some unintentional truths leak out, such as the fact that he cannot promise Villalobos that she will not be deported, since Trump has stated that “anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation.” And Ryan can laugh all he wants, but he cannot, and did not, say the “deportation force” will not happen, only that “in Congress, it’s not happening.”
The singular reassurance he can offer is that he “feels” like doing something “in a good way,” by keeping the “focus” away from deporting people like Villalobos. That is called “prosecutorial discretion,” which is the principle on which DACA is built, and it is why Trump does not need Congress to implement his “deportation force.”
The fact is that even if Trump proceeds as Ryan claims he will, people like Villalobos will continue to live under the threat of deportation, until Democrats are once again elected to govern, and reform immigration in the way most Americans would like to see it done.