Father of 10-year-old girl who met pope released

March 29, 2014

(CNS) – A 10-year-old Panorama City girl who asked Pope Francis to help reunite her with her father — who is facing deportation – got her wish today when her father was released on bond from federal custody.

Mario Vargas-Lopez was released from a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in New Orleans, just two days after his daughter, Jersey Vargas, spoke to the pope and asked for help reuniting her family.

“It’s been so difficult to be separated from my family,” Vargas-Lopez told The Tidings, the newspaper published by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “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.”

He said he was so proud of his daughter, “I can’t describe it.”

Jersey Vargas had written a letter to the pope describing how she had spent her last two birthdays without her father because he was being held in a federal immigration center and facing deportation.

On Wednesday, she was part of a group of people who traveled to the Vatican, and she was able to speak with Pope Francis as he greeted visitors at St. Peter’s Basilica. Jersey handed the pope an embroidered handkerchief and told him, “My father is suffering.”

She told the pope there were many other children like her whose families were broken apart by deportation proceedings. The pope touched the girl’s face and kissed her forehead, telling her he would speak to President Barack Obama about the issue.

The pope and Obama met Thursday at the Vatican, and immigration was among the topics they discussed.

While Vargas-Lopez is temporarily out of custody, his deportation case is still pending.

Bryan Cox, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Vargas-Lopez was released “on an immigration bond while he awaits the outcome of his immigration proceedings.”

“An immigration judge will determine the outcome of his case,” Cox said. “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement exercises discretion on a case- by-case basis, as necessary to focus resources on our stated priorities. Under the deferred action process, and prosecutorial discretion as a whole, ICE is screening every alien we encounter, including those in custody.

“Decisions are based on the merits of each case, the factual informational provided to the agency and the totality of the circumstances,” he said.

According to Cox, Vargas-Lopez has been in federal custody since March 10, following his Sept. 27, 2013, arrest and subsequent DUI conviction in Blount County, Tenn.

According to The Tidings, Vargas-Lopez went to Tennessee because he could not find construction work in Los Angeles.

His attorney, Alex Galvez, told the paper his client’s bond was reduced from $15,000 to $5,000 due to good behavior. He said Vargas-Lopez is eligible to receive a work permit, a driver’s license and a Social Security number so he can try to find work in Los Angeles.

“We have all felt a divine providence in this,” the attorney told The Tidings. “We can’t explain how this has come to pass.”