Santorum Suggested That This Engineer Should Leave The Country She Grew Up In. She Responded With Grace.

Santorum hasn't held public office in almost a decade.

When Donald Trump won the election on a campaign that played on xenophobia, racism, and sexism, undocumented immigrants were among those most struck by fear at what his administration would do to them. This week, one Republican politician displayed the kind of flippancy and disregard for the people whom Trump's hardline immigration stance will have dire consequences. In a discussion on immigration at a town hall hosted by CNN's Van Jones, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told Elizabeth Vilchis, a DREAMer, to leave the country and come back the "right" way.

Vilchis is an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a child. Because of the program DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Vilchis is allowed to work here, pursuing a career in mechanical engineering. Trump has repeatedly pledged to get rid of DACA during his campaign, though he's since hinted that he will shift his stance. Like many immigration advocates, however, Vilchis is still concerned that her entire life will be upended. 

"As 2017 starts," Vilchis told Santorum at the town hall, "I'd like to ask for your advice: how would you advise somebody like me  for planning my future and what lays ahead?"

Santorum responded with his own grandfather's immigration story, then said:

You've been given a tremendous benefit by being here in this country... My guess is you wouldn't have had the opportunities to be able to accomplish what you have. You have the ability to go to any country right now and apply those wares and then be successful — and then reapply to come back to America if you so choose. 

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Conservative pundit Ana Navarro, who was also on the panel, interjected. "This is your country. No matter what he says, no matter what anybody else says. This is your country. And I, as an American, thank you for the contributions you are making to our joint country. I want you here."

Vilchis responded to Santorum that while his grandfather had a choice in whether to move to the U.S., she didn't. "I was brought here. I didn't understand what my situation was until I was much older and I was already contributing to my community," Vilchis said. 

Republican politicians by and large are no proponents of comprehensive immigration reform. In the wake of Trump's victory, many are following his lead on taking hardline immigration stances. This year, the GOP revised its platform to endorse Trump's call to "build the wall" and allude to support for his suggestion to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. 

After CNN posted the exchange on social media, outrage ensued. Many criticized Santorum — who hasn't held public office in almost 10 years — for essentially telling a successful, educated woman who's lived nearly her entire life as part of American society that she doesn't belong. 

But as Navarro told Vilchis, anonymity, for her, is no longer an option. With millions of undocumented immigrants' lives hanging in the balance, Navarro said, "You've got to tell your story, and change and affect public opinion. Because your stories are beautiful. They're the stories of the American dream."

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