Jersey Vargas stays the course for immigration reform

Jersey says she’s representing kids “whose parents are going to be deported.” — Credit: VICTOR ALEMAN

For 10-year-old Jersey Vargas, her four siblings and her parents, Teodula and Mario — a humble immigrant family living in the Los Angeles area — the last three months have been a blur, from Jersey’s rare opportunity to meet Pope Francis, to Mario’s long-awaited release from an ICE detention center, to the whirlwind of media attention that followed their heartfelt family reunion.

But this outgoing soon-to-be-fifth grader wouldn’t change a single thing.

“I have been happier than ever, because now that I have my dad at home my family is complete,” Jersey told The Tidings. “We’re all together. When my dad wasn’t here with us, there was always this place that always felt so empty.”

Mario had been living and working in Tennessee — and sending money home to his family — when he was detained for driving without a license. In late March, with her father’s deportation looming after six months in federal custody, Jersey traveled to Vatican City as part of a delegation of U.S. children whose immigrant parents are facing deportation due to the nation’s existing immigration laws.

Jersey was the only member of the group who spoke with Pope Francis. She gave the pontiff an embroidered handkerchief and received a blessing in return, along with the promise that he would speak with President Obama about her dad during their first meeting on March 27.

After posting $5,000 bail, Mario was finally released the next day (though it’s unclear if the meeting had any direct impact). When Jersey returned home on March 29, her father was already waiting for her.

Now the family is embarking on the next chapter of their journey. With the support of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), their attorney Alex Galvez and other supporters, Jersey and her family left June 15 for Washington, D.C., June 15-20 to present “handkerchiefs of peace” to several U.S. Congress members — and hopefully to President Obama as well — and to urge them to work together to finally pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Before departing on their five-day journey, Jersey, her family members and the handkerchiefs were blessed by Archbishop José Gomez June 14 at the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the plaza of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“Our deportation policy is breaking up families — leaving children without parents; that’s what happened to Jersey and her family,” said Archbishop Gomez during the blessing ceremony. “So we bless you and these handkerchiefs with our prayers to our leaders in Washington. We pray that this humble gesture will help our leaders to hear the cries of these people who are suffering — these people who are our neighbors and friends, people we work with and go to church with.

“We need immigration reform now; we can’t let another year go by, debating but doing nothing,” he added. “We need reform that is real and comprehensive — so all our brothers and sisters can live with the dignity that God intends for them.”

The white handkerchiefs — all hand-embroidered by Jersey’s mother, Teodula, with the phrase “11 Millones” — are intended to be tangible symbols of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S. who are in need of comprehensive immigration reform. The handkerchiefs are also embroidered with the names of their intended recipients: Rep. John Boehner, Rep. Xavier Becerra, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Rep. Eric Cantor, and President Obama.

Jersey’s experiences over the last three months have ranged from “scary” to “privileged” — as in, a privilege to represent others like herself.

“When I read my letter to Pope Francis in front of the cameras it was scary to me, but after that I started getting used to it,” she recalled. “Now I feel honored to be representing millions of undocumented people, representing children whose parents are going to be deported.

“I feel that praying has helped me — when my dad was in Tennessee working, and then when he was in jail,” she continued. “I had faith in God that he would help my dad come back home. Now I pray that I can help other people.”

During the June 14 ceremony, Archbishop Gomez also blessed and crowned a replica statue of Our Lady of Zapopan, the patron saint of Guadalajara who has been dubbed “la reina (the queen)” of immigration.


Seeking the face of God in the Scriptures

Archbishop José H. Gomez

Prayer is seeking the face of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the story of how St. John Vianney once found a peasant praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The saint asked him what he was doing, and the man replied: “I look at him and he looks at me.”


February 2016
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat

February 14, 2016

  • Sunday, February 14

    Mother Cabrini Library and Chapel Open House, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m., 3801 Scott Road, Burbank. The event is hosted by the Los Angeles Region.


    Italian Catholic Club of SCV Valentine's Day Dinner Dance, 7 p.m., Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Parish Hall), 23233 Lyons Ave., Newhall. Come enjoy a delicious gourmet buffet dinner and dance the night away to the music of Linda Pippin. Wear your favorite red dress, shirt and/or tie. All adults (single or married) are welcome. Tickets are $35 each (prepaid), or $45 at the door. Please call Anna Riggs at (661) 645-7877 to reserve your spot by Feb. 10.


    Stations of the Cross, 2 p.m. Calvary Cemetery, 4201 Whittier Boulevard, East Los Angeles. Continuing each Sunday of Lent. For more info, please call Calvary Cemetery: 323-261-3106.


    Year of Mercy Mass and Pilgrimage in The Shrine of St. John Paul II, 3 p.m., Our Lady of the Bright Mount Church, 3424 W. Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles.  Mass celebrated in English with Fr. John Paul Gonzalez of Christ the King Church.  Mass will be followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and confession, with Divine Mercy Chaplet.  The closing prayer will be a blessing and veneration of the 1st class relic of St. John Paul II.  

    South Bay Catholic Co-ed Adult Softball League Pre-Season Practice Games, McMaster Park, 3624 Artesia Blvd., Torrance.  Must RSVP to Fred Lawler (League Commissioner) at (310) 504-0271 or

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