Sophie Cruz’s brief encounter with Pope Francis during his parade in Washington this week appeared to be the kind of spontaneous moment that is so endearing about this pope: an initially hesitant young child wrapping an arm around his neck as he offers a kiss and a blessing.
But for 5-year-old Sophie, the moment unfolded as perfectly as it was scripted by members of a coalition of Los Angeles-based immigration rights groups. They had been preparing for nearly a year for the young girl from suburban Los Angeles to make a dash for the popemobile to deliver a message about the plight of immigrant parents living in the country illegally.
They had even pulled off a similar public-relations coup a year ago in Rome using a 10-year-old girl with the pope.
“We planned to do this from the moment we learned he was coming to the States,” Juan Jose Gutierrez of the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition told The Associated Press. “We have been working for a while now trying to sensitize the American public that dealing with immigration is not just dealing with the people who came in without proper documents but that we also have … countless children whose parents are undocumented.”
Gutierrez said the group decided to use the children of immigrants to represent their push for immigration reforms to the pope, a staunch supporter of immigrants. “We have been looking for children to make the case that we as adults have been making for years,” he said.
Sophie was selected for the Washington trip because she “impressed us all so much that we felt she would be our best spokesman,” Gutierrez said. If she had been unsuccessful in Washington attracting the pope’s attention, he said, she would have traveled with the group to New York and then Philadelphia to try again.
Sophie refused to the leave the pope’s side Wednesday until a bodyguard took a handwritten letter and a T-shirt.
Her note to Francis detailed fears that her parents, immigrants from Mexico who don’t have legal status in the United States, could be deported. But their risk of being deported is slight under the Obama administration’s policies, which focus on deporting serious criminals.
Read more: The Blaze