Standing there since the wee hours of the morning, when the Popemobile finally approached her spot on Constitution Avenue, Sofi Cruz went for it: she slipped through all the grown-ups in the crowd and started walking somewhat tentatively toward Pope Francis.
The 5-year-old girl, in pigtails, red-flowered dress and tennis shoes, will probably never forget this brisk September day in D.C. when the pope made his fancy car stop and had her come to him.
“Let her come to me,” he told his security detail with a decisive gesture.
Within the next few seconds, Sofi Cruz was picked up by one of the suited men and taken to the pope, who was waiting with a hug in his open-sided popemobile. She gave him two things: a T-shirt and a letter her dad gave her asking him to intercede for all the struggling immigrants in the U.S.
The T-shirt read: "Pope: rescue DAPA, so the legalization would be your blessing." It refers to a program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, which would extend deportation protections to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years, but is on hold after 26 states sued to block it.
The Guardian had the girl read a copy of the letter and posted the audio on its website. It reads:
"Pope Francis, I want to tell you that my heart is sad and 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.
"I believe I have the right to live with my parents. I have the right to be happy. My dad works very hard in a factory galvanizing pieces of metal.
"All immigrants just like my dad need this country. They deserve to live with dignity. They deserve to live with respect.
"They deserve an immigration reform, because it benefits my country and because they have been working hard harvesting oranges watermelons, carrots, onions, spinach and other vegetables."
Sofi Cruz was part of an advocacy group from Los Angeles, Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, that traveled to Washington D.C. for the historic visit.
Sofi went with her 30-year-old father, Raul, who like her mother, came to the U.S. from Mexico's southern state of Oaxaca about 10 years ago. Sofi and her sister were born in the United States and are therefore American citizens.
"This has filled us with enthusiasm," said Saucedo.
Sofi and her father will appear at a rally and news conference Wednesday evening at the Capitol. Rep. Julia Brownley invited Sofi to listen to the pope's address to Congress on Thursday.
Cheering crowds jammed a parade route as Francis made a leisurely loop around the streets near the White House after his first official activity Wednesday morning in the South Lawn.
Along the heavily guarded parade route, bodyguards also ferried several babies from behind police barricades to the Jeep for pontifical kisses.
It was his first direct encounter with the American public.
Francis' next stop after the White House was a worship service with America's 450-strong bishops' conference at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, where he took note of the clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted in the U.S. in 2002.
The pope praised the bishops for a "generous commitment to bring healing to victims" and for acting "without fear of self-criticism."
The AP contributed to this report.