Sophie Cruz's brief encounter with Pope Francis during his parade in Washington this week appeared to be the kind of spontaneous moment that's so endearing about this pope. But for 5-year-old Sophie from suburban Los Angeles, the moment unfolded as perfectly as it was scripted by members of a coalition of LA-based immigration rights groups that had prepped for nearly a year for her to make a dash for the popemobile and deliver a message about the plight of illegal immigrant parents. "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 tells the AP. "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."
"We have been looking for children to make the case that we as adults have been making for years," he adds, noting Sophie was selected for the DC trip because she "impressed us all so much [and] ... we felt she would be our best spokesman." If she had been unsuccessful in Washington, he said, she would have traveled with the group to New York and then Philly to try again. Sophie refused to leave the pope's side Wednesday until a bodyguard took her handwritten letter, which detailed fears that her parents, immigrants from Mexico who don't have legal status in the US, could be deported. "I believe I have the right to live with my parents," Sophie told the AP afterward. Gutierrez says she crafted the letter herself and wasn't coached on what to say to reporters. The same group orchestrated an equally successful effort in Rome last year with a 10-year-old who pleaded with Francis to urge President Barack Obama to free her immigrant father from a Louisiana detention center. Following that encounter, a relative helped post bond for the jailed dad. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)