Immigrant whose daughter appealed to pope
requests asylum in U.S.
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[March 23, 2017]
By Olga Grigoryants
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Mexican immigrant
whose daughter appealed to Pope Francis three years ago to stop his
deportation from the United States requested asylum at a federal court
hearing in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Mario Vargas-Lopez's attorney argued the 45-year-old could be the victim
of violence if he is deported to Mexico because of the international
attention his case has received.
"People in Mexico know who he is, and he might be targeted for ransom
and extortion," attorney Alex Galvez said in a phone interview after the
Vargas-Lopez was granted a hearing for Sept. 18 by Judge Rose Peters.
He entered the United States in 1999, his attorney said, and had worked
in construction in Tennessee and California.
In September 2013, he was arrested in Tennessee on a drunken-driving
charge and served a six-month sentence. On his release, he was detained
by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and held in its Louisiana
Vargas-Lopez was released on bond in March 2014, three days after his
then-10-year-old daughter, U.S.-born Jersey Vargas, made a plea to the
pope as part of a delegation delivering letters to the pontiff from
children of illegal immigrants.
As reported by the Catholic publication "The Tidings," the girl told
Pope Francis: "My father is suffering."
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Mario Vargas-Lopez, 45, walks out of immigration court in Los
Angeles, California, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Vargas-Lopez was subsequently reunited with his family in Los
Angeles and has remained free. U.S. immigration officials denied at
the time there was any papal intervention.
Galvez has argued that Vargas-Lopez's family ties in the country and
clean record since his 2014 release from the Immigration and Customs
Enforcement detention center should be taken into account in his
request for asylum.
A representative for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to
comment on the case.
Jersey Vargas, now 13, was not at Wednesday's hearing.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by
Patrick Enright and Peter Cooney)
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