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Girl talks to pope on immigration, then dad freed

Posted: March 29, 2014 10:08 a.m.
Updated: March 29, 2014 10:08 a.m.

In this March 26, 2014, photo provided by Catholic Coalition of Immigrant Rights, Pope Francis touches 10-year-old Jersey Vargas, who traveled to the Vatican from Los Angeles to plead with him to help spare her father from deportation.

 

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 during a public audience 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.

"I feel very happy and proud because I'm finally going to have my dad back and we're going to be reunited," Jersey told the AP late Friday before boarding a flight from Rome to Los Angeles.

She said her father was also heading to Los Angeles, and that she hoped he would get there before her arrival Saturday.

"I haven't seen him in two years," she said. "It's been very hard since my dad hasn't been home. My mom has had to be the provider for my family, she's been the mother and father for two years."

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.

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