Jersey Vargas is only ten years old, but she's already a deeply committed activist -- and she recently turned to Pope Francis to help her cause.
The articulate girl from Los Angeles, Ca., rushed up to Pope Francis to tell him about the plight of illegal immigrants and their families who face deportation and separation. She gave the Pope a handkerchief embroidered with the words "Nest of Love," and explained that her father was about to be deported, according to Fox News Latino.
The Vatican Insider reported that Pope Francis was "visibly moved" by her urgency and passion, and asked her where her father was being deported from.
"The United States," she replied. She told The Vatican Insider:
I went back to ask him to help us because it’s unfair that many children like me are faced with this situation, separated from our families. He blessed me, gave me a kiss and confirmed to me he would be seeing President Obama. I felt better after this because I felt I made a difference to the world, he gave me his word and I’m happy.
The encounter took place just a day before Pope Francis' meeting with President Obama at the Vatican.
Vargas traveled to the Vatican with a group of activists hoping to meet Pope Francis and talk to him about their issues. They came with a note from Archbishop Jose H. Gomez that should have put them in a position to greet him as he met the crowd, but Vargas was the only one who was able to relay their message.
Local immigration lawyer Alex Galvez told the L.A. Times that a judge had agreed to release Vargas' father, pending a later review of his case, if the family was able to post a $5,000 bond. Mr. Vargas has lived in the United States since he was sixteen years old.
After she met Pope Francis, Vargas shared the experience with Fox News Latino in a phone interview from Rome:
I told him to pray for my family and to ask the president to stop deportation because it's separating my family. He blessed me and told me he would bring this up with President Obama.
Before she left for Rome, she told Archbishop Gomez and the L.A. Times what she planned to say to Pope Francis:
I'm going to introduce myself and where I'm from, and say I'm representing millions of children who today are in my situation … and I think it's unfair that people are separating families because right now is a time when kids really need their parents.
UPDATE FROM AP:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — After a 10-year-old California girl traveled to the Vatican to plead with Pope Francis for help as her father faced deportation, the man was released Friday on bond from immigration detention.
Mario Vargas was freed from a detention facility in Louisiana after he posted $5,000 bond. A relative who saw the girl on television pleading with the pope helped with the funding, said his wife, Lola Vargas.
"When she left, her wish was that her father would be home," she told The Associated Press in Spanish. "Thank God she is going to get her wish."
Mario Vargas' release came after his daughter Jersey, of Panorama City, Calif., addressed the pope this week as part of a California delegation that traveled to urge the Vatican to prod President Barack Obama on immigration reform. The girl and a teenager went as part of the 16-member group to represent the American children of immigrant parents who are afraid their families will be divided by deportation. The president and the pontiff met for the first time Thursday.
Mario Vargas was arrested last year in Tennessee and convicted of driving under the influence before he was taken into federal custody earlier this month, said Bryan Cox, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Authorities released him after he posted bond, and an immigration judge will determine the outcome of his deportation case, Cox said.
Lola Vargas said she had been gathering money to pay for her Mexican husband's bond but didn't have enough until one of his cousins called, surprised to see the girl on television, and offered to help. Her husband had gone to Tennessee to look for work in construction and had been sending money to his family in California, she said.
A message left for Vargas' immigration attorney, Alex Galvez, seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Juan Jose Gutierrez, an immigrant advocate who coordinated the trip to Italy, said the archdiocese of Los Angeles helped get the group a key spot so they could speak with Pope Francis amid the crowds.