Immigrant whose daughter pleaded to pope has first California hearing

FILE PHOTO - Jersey Vargas greets her father Mario Vargas-Lopez at Los Angeles airport
FILE PHOTO - Ten-year-old Jersey Vargas (R) greets her father Mario Vargas-Lopez after she asked Pope Francis for help in stopping her father's deportation during a visit to the Vatican, at Los Angeles airport, California, U.S. on March 29, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo (Reuters)

By Olga Grigoryants

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Mexican immigrant to the United States whose daughter asked Pope Francis for help in stopping her father's deportation attended his first hearing before an immigration judge in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Judge Rose Peters made no rulings at the brief hearing and postponed the proceedings against Mario Vargas-Lopez, 45, until March 22. Vargas-Lopez's attorney, Alex Galvez, is seeking to have the case put on an indefinite hold citing his client's good conduct since his release from a Louisiana detention center in 2014.

"The family represents struggles that other families are going through. They are heroes and a lot of people are looking up to them," Galvez said shortly before the hearing.

Galvez said the proceedings could last as long as three years, during which Vargas-Lopez is set to remain free.

Vargas-Lopez was arrested in Tennessee in September 2013 on a drunk driving charge and served a six-month sentence. Upon his release he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and held in a Louisiana detention facility.

He was later freed on bond just three days after his then 10-year-old daughter, Jersey Vargas, delivered her message to the pope. He was later reunited with his family in Los Angeles.

Jersey Vargas was part of a group from Southern California who traveled to Vatican City in 2014 to deliver letters to the pope from children of undocumented parents, according to "The Tidings," a publication linked to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

She was able to speak briefly with the pope and told him, "My father is suffering," according to the publication. The delegation hoped to convince the pope to discuss immigration reform in a subsequent visit with then President Barack Obama.

Jersey Vargas, now 13, said before Thursday's hearing, "I'm trying to be strong for my family. I'm concerned."

"I hope everything is going to be okay," she added.

The proceedings come just weeks after Republican Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States. Trump ran on pledges to get tough on immigrants, including plans to build a wall on the border of Mexico and the United States.

(Reporting by Olga Grigoryants in Los Angeles; Writing by Curtis Skinner; Editing by David Gregorio)