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U.S. releases immigrant, says unrelated to daughter's plea to pope

Mario Vargas-Lopez is reunited with his wife Lola (R) and children as he arrives at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California, Mar
Mario Vargas-Lopez is reunited with his wife Lola (R) and children as he arrives at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California, Mar

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) - A Mexican immigrant to the United States whose daughter asked Pope Francis for help in stopping her father's deportation has been released from custody, but U.S. immigration officials said there was no papal intervention.

Mario Vargas-Lopez was free on bond from a detention center in Louisiana three days after his 10-year-old daughter, Jersey Vargas, delivered her message to the pope. He was reunited with his family in Los Angeles on Friday.

Jersey Vargas was part of a coalition from Southern California that traveled to Vatican City on Wednesday to deliver letters to the pope from children of undocumented parents, according to "The Tidings," published online by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.

The girl 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 his visit with President Barack Obama two days later.

Vargas-Lopez was arrested in Tennessee in September 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 until he could appear before a judge for removal proceedings, said Bryan Cox, agency spokesman in New Orleans.

But relatives and friends of the Vargas-Lopez family raised $5,000 to post bond, his lawyer, Alex Galvez, said on Saturday. A judge had approved the bond request several days before the girl met with the pope, but the money was not available until late this week, Galvez said.

The bond amount was not changed as the result of his daughter asking the pope to intercede, Cox said. Vargas-Lopez is required to stay in communication with ICE and tell agency officials where he is pending his next court appearance, Cox said.

"Him being released on bond in no way translates into special action on his behalf," Cox said. "This was standard procedure."

Galvez agreed that the release was unrelated to the daughter's visit with the pope. He said her message to the Catholic leader was related to the larger need to improve an immigration system in the United States that separates families.

(This story was refiled to fix spelling error first paragraph)

(Reporting By Kevin Murphy in Kansas City and Brendan O'Brian in Milwaukee; Editing by Carey Gillam and Cynthia Osterman)

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