Ten-year-old Jersey Vargas’ prayers have been answered. She was reunited with her father, Mario, March 29 at Los Angeles International Airport.
Mario, an undocumented immigrant detained driving without a license, was released after six months in federal custody March 28 in Louisiana. Jersey took part in a letter-writing campaign asking for Pope Francis to help families like hers who’ve been separated because of immigration status.
The campaign, organized by the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition, culminated with Jersey meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican earlier this week. She told the Holy Father that Mario was about to be deported.
“For me, he’s a marvelous person. He’s the closest to God,” Jersey said of Pope Francis in an interview with The Tidings. “Yes, I will talk to the president about it,” Jersey recounted the pope saying.
The pope met with President Barack Obama the following day — though it may not have had an impact on Mario’s release. When Jersey arrived in Los Angeles, her father was waiting for her.
“Words cannot express what my daughter has done for me,” said Mario, holding back tears. “It’s been so difficult to be separated from my family. There are many men [in detention] that are suffering. They don’t want to be locked up away from their families — it’s a sad place.”
Mario, who works in construction, went to Tennessee because he was unable to find work in Los Angeles. His attorney, Alex Galvez, said Mario is eligible to receive a work permit, a driver’s license and a social security number once he has legal status to work in Los Angeles.
“We have all felt a divine providence in this,” said Galvez, who took the case pro bono. “We can’t explain how this has come to pass.”
The judge reduced bail from $15,000 to $5,000 on account of good behavior, Galvez said. While there are other obstacles left, Galvez said the toughest part is behind them.
“Jersey’s little voice has been heard across the United States,” Galvez said.
Mario had been sending most of his earnings in Tennessee to support the family in Los Angeles.
“Thanks to my dad I have food and clothing,” Jersey wrote in her letter to Pope Francis. “Also, thanks to my dad I have a roof over my head and I have an amazing family that loves me.”
Jersey joined a coalition from Southern California that journeyed to Vatican City March 26 to deliver letters written to the Holy Father by children with undocumented parents.
Pope Francis regularly greets many of the pilgrims who come to the Wednesday audiences. Jersey made her way to the guardrail, clinging to a handkerchief embroidered with two birds and a nest, a gift for Pope Francis. The birds represent her parents, and the nest their home.
“This nest is being destroyed,” Vargas told the Holy Father. “It’s not just, and other children in the United States are suffering just like I am.”
Overcome with emotion, she had to take a step back from the railing, Vargas said in an interview this week with The Tidings. Her chaperone, Martha Ugarte, encouraged Vargas to talk to him again.
She did and this time, the Holy Father touched her face, blessed her and then kissed her forehead. He whispered in her ear, “I will talk to President Obama about it.”
Archbishop José H. Gomez gave the group a special send off March 16 at the closing liturgy of the Religious Education Congress.The archbishop gave Jersey a medal of Our Lady of Guadalupe March 19 to carry with her on the trip to the Vatican.
Jersey, who had been afraid to fly, said she found consolation in the gift, and said she knew the Blessed Mother was with her. Mario’s wife, Lola, sent an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the detention center, mixed in with family photos. It was a great solace to him as well.
“Please take care of my children, please take care of my children,” Mario would pray. “I kept asking God for help.”
Lola, who has carried the family financially while her husband has been in custody, believes God did just that.
“It’s a miracle,” she said. “God put people in our lives to help us.”