On Wednesday, Pope Francis met 10-year-old Jersey Vargas after her travel from California to Rome, in hopes of urging him to speak to President Obama about American immigration. The young girl from Panorama City, California had collected countless letters to Pope Francis from children in her community with illegal parents, facing deportation.
For young Vargas, the politically gridlocked status of immigration hits home. Her father, Mario Vargas, who came to the United States when he was 16, was arrested for driving without a license last summer and is now in danger of deportation. Jersey Vargas traveled with the Catholic Coalition for Immigrant Rights and the San Gabriel Mission Church to deliver the letters she had collected.
Vargas was pushed and shoved through the crowd, and at one point, fell down. The young girl was dismayed at first but kept her focus on finding Pope Francis. “When Pope Francis was [coming] near me, there was a woman who pushed me,” recalled Vargas. Another person in the crowd reportedly picked the girl up and let her sit near the front row.
It was then that Pope Francis happened upon her small face. He passed through the crowd, touched her head and blessed her. The moment was extremely important to Vargas and her family. She was ready to give her message. “My father,” she told Pope Francis,” is suffering. It [is] not just, and other children in the United States are suffering…like I am.”
Vargas was referencing what many in America believe to be a broken immigration policy, wherein adults of illegal status face deportation while their children are left behind with relatives or alone. Pope Francis promised Vargas he would “talk to President Obama” about the matter. The visit from Vargas coincided with President Barack Obama’s first trip to meet with the “People’s Pope.”
“Now that I talked to Pope Francis I feel…more assured because I finally completed my mission, telling him about my dad and…millions of [others]…going through the same situation,” Jersey said. Once the 10-year-old Vargas had a talk with Pope Francis, it was time for President Obama to weigh in on immigration in California and throughout the United States.
President Obama said his 52 minute meeting with Pope Francis centered around “the poor and marginalized, those without opportunity, and [their] growing inequality.” Young Vargas had support of many different people, including some major church officials. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, who is a major immigration reformist met Vargas at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels.
He said the young girl was “articulate and poised.” Vargas’ mother commented on her daughter’s journey and extraordinary meeting with Pope Francis saying, “She told me…what she [got to tell] the Pope. I am so proud of her.” The Vargas family, like numerous others in California, await the decision of the deportation courts.
Mario Vargas, father to Jersey and three other children, was arrested last summer for driving without a license. Shortly thereafter, he was charged and put in an immigration detention center in Tennessee. Though Vargas was released on bail Friday and is returning to Los Angeles, he still faces possible deportation.
Immigration attorney Alex Galvez commented on the situation in an interview saying, “He didn’t have a license, but you know [what]? He was supporting his family…paying his taxes…[and] doing everything to get his family ahead.”
When 10-year-old Vargas made the trip from California to Rome to speak to Pope Francis about immigration, she gave him a small gift. It was an embroidered, white cloth with two birds reading, “Nest of Love.” Vargas fears, with the current immigration policies, that nest will forever be broken.
By Erin P. Friar