Pope Francis

LA Immigrant Catholics Plan to Take Message to Pope Francis

La Senora Reina de Los Angeles Church at Placita Olvera in Los Angeles played host Sunday to 25 pilgrims preparing to travel to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, with the hope of tugging the pope's ear.

"We have a great hope," said Father Luis Estrada Rivera, associate pastor of the church who prayed over the immigrant pilgrims and offered his blessings for their safe travels.

The group is taking with them a giant banner that reads, "Pope Francis please help us legalize our parents." It is a message they say has been brewing in Los Angeles for decades.

"I'm really scared that ICE is going to take him away," Evelyn Calderon says of her father. She says he's in the country without legal documentation.

Angela Zamorano, 12, worries about her dad, too. She says he already has an order for deportation.

"He's the only one that's trying, and they're making it hard on him," she said. If he leaves, "that would basically change our lives. I'd be sad, I'd be crying, I'd be frustrated. I just wouldn't want that."

The Pope's visit to Washington will include a joint session of Congress and a meeting with President Barack Obama.

"We believe he can do a lot for us," says Martha Jauregui, one of the 25 headed out Monday morning, "It's a Christian thing to do."

Jauregui says her grandmother was one of thousands of citizen children forced to return to Mexico in the 1930s because of what she calls a broken immigration system.

"I think it's really unfair that these kids suffer. They live in fear that their parents will be taken away at any moment," she said.

The group, with support from Van Nuys-based Hermandad Mexicana, believes they can change the course of immigration talk in Washington - because they believe they've done it before.

Hermandad Mexicana is the group that first brought a young girl named Jersey Vargas to center stage in 2014. NBC4 first met Vargas on Presidents' Day that year when the 8-year-old spoke like a wise adult about the effects of deportations on families. Vargas became a quasi-spokesperson for the group, even going all the way to the Vatican in April last year to try to speak personally with the Pope.

As Vargas explains it, she snuck under wooden railings to reach the Pope during his general conference in St. Peter's Square, where he blessed her and leaned in to listen to what she had to say.

"He kissed me on my head," Vargas said, "and he touched my face and that's when he told me he was going to talk to the President."

President Obama was to meet with the pope the very next day, but immigration was not on the agenda.

Vargas said her plea to the pope was to help her father, who was already in a detention center in Tennessee awaiting deportation. When she landed back at LAX after her trip, her father was there to embrace her.

This group does not believe that's a coincidence.

"We do believe that the Pope has influence that the pope can touch their hearts," said Jauregui.

Another young girl is joining the group for the trip, also hoping to be a young voice to speak to Pope Francis.

Sofi Cruz is 5-years-old and says she wants the pope to speak personally to President Obama to legalize all immigrants, because as she says, "they have earned it working hard."

Cruz says her parents are immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico and rehearsed what she said she would tell the pope if she got the chance.

"Pope Francis," she says, "I want to tell you that my heart is sad and I would like to ask you to speak with the president and the Congress and legalizing my parents because every day I am scared that one day they will take them away from me."

The Vatican has not said what the Pope may have on his agenda in his joint meeting with Congress or what he may discuss with President Obama. But many of those leaving LA this week hope their message will get on his agenda.

"Instead of moving forward, this whole immigrant generation is stepping back and tearing apart these families," says Jauregui.

Sandra Zamorano says she's hoping the Pope can convince naysayers to stop the fight against the extension of DACA - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and DAPA - Deferred Action for Parents of American Citizens - a number of states are fighting the president's executive order on the two measures.

"We're fighting for immigration reform but meanwhile we'll be satisfied with DAPA and DACA," Zamorano says.

The Hermandad Mexicana group will depart Los Angeles Monday morning.

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