VATICAN CITY — A group of U.S. immigration-reform advocates participated in Wednesday’s general audience at the Vatican, giving the Pope letters from children who face being separated from their parents by deportation.
The group, which traveled from Los Angeles and was blessed by the city’s Archbishop Jose Gomez, hoped to encourage Pope Francis to advocate for them during his impending meeting with President Barack Obama.
The group chose 10-year-old Jersey Vargas, the daughter of undocumented immigrants, as their representative to the Pope. Vargas was born in the U.S., and her father is currently imprisoned in Indiana and at risk of being deported.
At the end of the March 26 audience, Vargas, the third of five siblings, was able to reach the first row to greet Pope Francis, giving him more than 1,000 letters from children whose families may be separated by deportation, as well as the gift of a handkerchief.
Vargas’ mother sewed into the handkerchief two birds and a nest, representing herself, her husband and their home.
"My father is suffering,” Vargas told Pope Francis, according to The Tidings. "And other children in the United States are suffering just like I am."
The Pope blessed her, kissed her forehead, and told her, "I will talk to President Obama about it."
Alicia Flores, director of “Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional” and a member of the delegation, told CNA, “We have come to send a message to President Obama via the Pope, asking the Pope that he would advocate for all the families who are going to be deported, as is Jersey’s family.”
Flores stressed that Obama has “deported more than 2 million people,” more than were deported during the eight years of George W. Bush’s administrations.
Obama “maintains he is deporting criminals,” she said, “while, in truth, he is deporting fathers whose only crime is that of giving a contribution to the country, since they are working, and of being without the proper documents.”
Pope Francis’ meeting with Obama took place March 27.
Caitlin Hayden, representative of the National Security Council, has said Obama is “willing to discuss with Pope Francis urgent global challenges, such as the lack of mobility and opportunities.”
The leaders’ meeting was expected to zero in on general topics, such as the crisis in Ukraine, social imbalances, efforts for peace and the need to foster a culture of encounter.
More specific topics, such as abortion law, religious liberty, and same-sex "marriage," were likely to be discussed at a later meeting between the U.S. delegation and the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Marta Jimenez contributed to this report.