PANORAMA CITY (CBSLA.com) — A Southern California immigration coalition is preparing for a trip to Vatican City, where its members will meet with Pope Francis to push for reform.
Ten-year-old Jersey Vargas, of Panorama City, is one of two children - and one of 17 total members from the L.A.-area - making the trip as part of the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition.
The 4th grader's father is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Jersey told CBS2's Serene Branson her father was pulled over and taken in for not having identification. And she hopes meeting with the pope will help her father's plight to remain in the U.S. with his family.
"I am excited 'cause never thought [I would] meet someone amazing like Pope Francis," she said. "My dad, he's now with immigration - I think in Indiana - and I'm very scared that they're going to deport him."
The trip comes just before the pope's meeting with President Obama. The coalition's members are hoping Pope Francis takes a specific stance on U.S. policy to grant amnesty to immigrants and urges Mr. Obama to break up the log jam in Congress.
"When I'm going to meet Pope Francis, since he loves children I hope he can hear us out loud and can change Obama's mind so he can help us too," Jersey said.
Immigration activist Juan Jose Gutierrez, the trip coordinator, and said the sit-down with Pope Francis became reality thanks to L.A. Archbishop Jose Gomez.
"I think that there is no one better way than the pope to frame the issue in a human dimension that can be understood by everyone concerned," Gutierrez said.
But even he was stunned when they got the meeting.
"When it was first proposed in November, it seemed like you gotta be kidding me," he confessed.
Immigration opponents don't support the meeting.
A spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform told CBS2 the organization understands the pope's compassion but doesn't agree with the coalition's approach.
"What the pope and other religious leaders often overlook is the impact of mass immigration - particularly illegal immigration - on struggling workers in the receiving countries. The church can only be charitable with its own resources," FAIR U.S. spokesperson Ira Mehlman said.
The Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition is scheduled to leave L.A. at 7 p.m. Friday.
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