Ten-year-old Jersey Vargas’ prayers have been answered. Her father, Mario, an undocumented immigrant detained for a vehicle code violation, was released from federal custody this afternoon in Louisiana.
Mario was speechless as he rode away from the immigrant detention center with his attorney, Alex Galvez. He sipped on the first Coke he’s had since being apprehended in September.
“It’s been so difficult to be separated from my family,” Mario said in a phone interview with The Tidings. “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.”
Jersey spoke with Pope Francis at the Vatican about her father’s imminent deportation on Wednesday. The pope met with President Barack Obama the following day — though it may not have had an impact on Mario’s release.
“I’m so proud of my daughter — I can’t describe it,” Mario said.
Mario, who works in construction, went to Tennessee because he was unable to find work in Los Angeles.
Galvez said Mario is eligible to receive a work permit, a driver’s license and a social security number 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. 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 from children with undocumented parents written to the Holy Father.
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.
“My father is suffering,” 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 said that an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the detention 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.”