In 2014, Jersey Vargas traveled to the Vatican, along with a group of immigration activists from California. On the trip, she worked her way through a general audience crowd, the Orange County Register reported, and managed to speak with Pope Francis.
She was just 10 years old.
According to the newspaper’s account, Jersey actually made two trips through the crowd. The first time she successfully snaked her way through, she began to cry, overwhelmed with emotion when she finally arrived near Pope Francis. But Jersey managed to weave her way through the crowd again.
And when she did, she told the pope about her father, Mario Vargas.
“I told him, can he please stop deportations because my dad is in the process of deportation,” she told the Register in 2014. “And that it’s not fair. And other families are suffering the same thing.”
Jersey’s father was released on bond from a detention facility in Louisiana not long after the girl spoke with the pope, the Associated Press reported. (According to the AP’s report, a family member who spotted Jersey on TV with the pope helped pay for Mario Vargas’s bond.) This week, Mario Vargas appeared before a California judge as his immigration fight continued.
The Associated Press reported that the court hearing Thursday was Mario Vargas’s first in front of an immigration judge in L.A. since his 2014 bond release. According to Reuters, which referred to Vargas as “Mario Vargas-Lopez,” the judge in the case did not make any rulings at the hearing, which didn’t last long. The proceedings are expected to pick up again in March, Reuters reported.
“He’s not a bad hombre and I’m willing to put my feet to the fire on that,” Vargas’s attorney, Alex Galvez, told AP. “Mario Vargas and Jersey Vargas put the face of the immigrant struggle front and center.”
Here’s the AP again, with more details of the hearing:
On Thursday, federal officials formally filed notice seeking to deport Vargas because he had been living in the United States illegally for about 17 years, Galvez said. The procedural hearing in a small courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, which lasted less than 10 minutes, was just the first hearing in what is expected to be a long court battle, the attorney said.
Vargas’s court appearance comes as much of the national conversation is focused on immigration-related issues, including with regard to undocumented immigrants who come to the United States from Mexico.
On Thursday and Friday, authorities conducted raids, posted checkpoints and executed traffic stops in a handful of states as part of an effort that targeted an unknown number of undocumented immigrants, according to immigration lawyers and advocates. The Washington Post reported that the raids marked “the first large-scale episode of immigration enforcement inside the United States since President Trump’s Jan. 26 order to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally.”
Also this week, Guadalupe García de Rayos, an undocumented mother of two children born in the United States, was deported. Although she had been ordered back to Mexico, García de Rayos for years had been allowed to stay in the country as long as she regularly checked in with officials.
During her most recent check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, however, García de Rayos was taken into custody.
“She has been deported,” Carlos García, director of the group Puente Arizona, said Thursday, announcing the action. “And this has been one of the first victims of President Trump.”
Meanwhile, an ICE spokesman previously told the Associated Press that before Mario Vargas was taken into federal custody, he had been arrested and convicted of driving under the influence.
“I want to stress Mr. Vargas is not the only one in this situation,” Galvez told the AP after Thursday’s hearing. “There are thousands and thousands of families going through the same thing and it’s an everyday struggle for them … America is America because of immigrants.”
Jersey Vargas, who is now a teenager, told an ABC affiliate Thursday that her father and mother had “suffered.”
“My parents are immigrants,” she told KABC. “They have suffered a lot and I have also suffered, feeling very sad and very emotional without my father.”
KABC reported that Jersey encouraged activism among other children whose parents might also be facing deportation, telling them to try to do as much as they can and to have faith.
“Not everyone has a happy ending,” she said. “But I feel that the most important thing is that we all try to do something.”