"I believe I have the right to live with my parents. I have the right to be happy."
With a message and a hug, five-year-old Sophie Cruz on Wednesday transformed a few minutes of Pope Francis' first U.S. visit into a resounding call for immigration reform.
Cruz, who was attending Francis' cavalcade on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. with her father and a group of immigration activists, caught media attention when she ran through a barricade to meet the Popemobile and deliver a letter to the Catholic leader whose progressive stance on many issues has helped brand him "the people's Pope."
Images of Francis stopping his procession and hugging Cruz circulated quickly among news outlets. But their meeting took on more significance when Cruz handed the Pope a letter about her family's experience. Her parents had come to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico without documentation—and because Cruz is American-born, she lives in fear that one day her parents will be taken away from her and deported.
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"I want to tell you that my heart is sad," Cruz's letter read. "I would like to ask you to speak with the president and the Congress in legalizing my parents because every day I am scared that one day they will take them away from me."
Cruz's father, Raúl, was pictured at the event wearing a T-shirt that read, "¡Papa Rescata DAPA!", which asks the Pope to save the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, a planned federal policy that would suspend deportation of undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. since 2010 and have children with citizenship or permanent resident statuses.
Along with her letter, the young Cruz also handed Francis one of the T-shirts as a gift.
"All immigrants just like my dad help feed this country," her letter continued. "They deserve to live with dignity. They deserve to live with respect. They deserve an immigration reform."
Francis, who has called himself "the son of an immigrant family," is expected to deliver Cruz's letter to the U.S. Congress Thursday morning.