Washington, D.C. — Flanked by her mother and younger brother at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, ten-year-old Jersey Vargas looks like any other kid just enjoying her Wednesday afternoon. Unlike every other child though, Jersey’s lawyer is also present, figuring out which high-level Congressional member she should meet with later in the afternoon. Jersey had just spent the better half of Wednesday morning meeting with Congressional members to talk about immigration reform. This week, Jersey and her family are in the nation’s capitol to call on the President and Congress to act on immigration reform.
Just three months ago, Jersey traveled to the Vatican to plead to Pope Francis to help save her father in deportation proceedings, just one day before the Pope was set to receive President Barack Obama. The Pope promised Jersey that he would talk to Obama about immigration reform. Four days later, her dad Mario was freed from detention after relatives posted a $5,000 bond. In an emotional reunion, the father and daughter embraced at Los Angeles International Airport for the first time in nearly two years. Her dad, Mario, had been arrested in Tennessee in 2013 for driving under the influence. After serving out a six-month prison sentence for the charge, he was transferred to the Louisiana detention facility to appear before a judge for deportation proceedings.
Jersey told ThinkProgress on Wednesday that her life has changed now that her father has been temporarily freed from detention. “Now that my dad is back, my family is happier than ever. … After we met up at the airport, we went to the park and we went to the movie theaters because we were really happy having him back. … He started helping me on my homework on some [math] problems.”
“When my dad wasn’t with me, my grades in math and language art class were lowered,” Jersey explained. “It traumatized me because I didn’t know what would happen to my dad.”
“I’m here in Washington, D.C. because I want to try and speak with the President and congressmen to try and [pass] immigration reform as soon as possible because many families are getting separated,” Jersey said. “It’s important to get immigration reform because I already suffered from having my family incomplete and this is something that I don’t wish even on my enemies, like my mom says.”
Jersey’s lawyer Alex Galvez was involved in Mario’s bond proceedings and helped get him out on bond. Galvez told ThinkProgress on Wednesday that during the bond hearing, “the judge looked over his entire record… and determined that yes, Mr. Mario Vargas is a person of good moral character. If that hadn’t been the case, he wouldn’t have granted the bond and wouldn’t have reduced the bond from $15,000 to $5,000.”
Mario has a work permit now and will stay in California until his immigration court date. “We’re moving the case from Louisiana to Los Angeles,” Galvez said. “I’ve been told once we proceed with his removal proceedings, that we [may be] able to get prosecutorial discretion. He has a work permit because he has a cancellation of removal. It’s a form of relief: he has to be here for more than ten years, which he has; qualifying relatives, which he has; and good moral character, which he has.”
Although Jersey’s dad is thus far safe, Jersey said, “this could happen to my mom especially because she doesn’t have her papers… but I have my family complete, everything’s alright now.”
Jersey said that if given the chance to meet with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), she would tell him that “right now, a ton of immigrants are in his hands and right now we need immigration reform too because we are important. We’re the ones working in restaurants and in stores.” On Thursday afternoon, Jersey approached Boehner in the Capitol building with a white handkerchief symbolizing peace and love. He took the handkerchief, thanked her, and quickly walked away with his security detail. Jersey had given a similar handkerchief to Pope Francis in March.
Jersey isn’t the only person in Washington, D.C. this week fighting for immigration reform. Since Monday, the InsideOut/11M project has displayed a 110 feet x 75 feet art installation showcasing the faces of four immigrants who have been contributing to the American economy on the West Lawn of the Capitol building. The immigrants featured include farm worker Guadalupe Martinez, Iraq War veteran and small business owner Yonas Hagos, an aspiring Marine Alejandro Morales, and startup founder Patrick Collison.
On Wednesday night, Rupert Murdoch, owner of 21st Century Fox including the conservative Fox News, made a similar argument for Congress to pass immigration reform saying that the “president might feel tempted to act via executive order” if Congress fails to “even try to have this important debate.” Murdoch wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “I don’t believe that people come to America to sit on their hands. The vast majority of America’s immigrants are hardworking, family-minded individuals with strong values. … We need to give those individuals who are already here — after they have passed checks to ensure they are not dangerous criminals — a path to citizenship so they can pay their full taxes, be counted, and become more productive members of our community. “