2019 Distinguished Alumni - Moguel
Rachel Moguel - Class of 2003
The long journey to safety, citizenship, and a successful career as immigration attorney began one winter evening in 1991 when five year old Rachel Moguel looked down on the glittering city of Chicago as her plane came in for landing at O’Hare International Airport. She turned to her mom and ten-year-old sister beside her and exclaimed, “It looks like a million candle cake!”
Rachel’s mother, a single mom and public relations professor in Mexico City, was beginning a six-month sabbatical to study English in Chicago in hopes of bettering her career and the future for her two young daughters. They stayed in the basement of Rachel’s grandmother’s house in Chicago’s south side Back of the Yards neighborhood. When the sabbatical was ending, they learned that all their belongings in their Mexico City home — their furniture, appliances, photo albums and clothes — had been stolen. The door back to Mexico had closed, and Rachel’s mom made the difficult decision to stay in Chicago on an expired visa. She went to work long hours for the next year waiting tables and saving as much money as possible.
A church member let them stay on the second floor of a building he owned near 47th and Western. But, just two days before Rachel would begin second grade their building was destroyed in a three-alarm fire started by a gang targeting the flat below theirs. If they were going to make it in Chicago, Rachel’s mom would have to get them to a safer neighborhood. She gathered all the savings she had in Mexico and the money she had put aside from waitressing to make a down payment on a small house in Elmhurst.
Rachel’s drive to learn English and succeed in school seemed boundless. She loved learning and she loved her teachers. On a warm spring day in 1996 Rachel heard fire sirens from her fifth grade classroom window. This time a faulty water heater had set their kitchen ablaze. The resulting smoke damage made the house uninhabitable and their few belongings too damaged to salvage. They took refuge in hotels and friends’ basements while her mom worked to pay off the mortgage for a house that no longer existed.
All the while, like so many other undocumented immigrants, Rachel lived with the daily fear of deportation. ICE raids were a frequent occurrence at her mom’s place of work, so despite her young age, Rachel was aware that in an instant her family’s world could be turned upside down. They could be forced to return to a country she no longer knew. Rachel’s schoolwork now became her refuge.
Sixth grade at Highland Middle School in LaGrange was formative. That year she also discovered her passion for writing and debate. By the summer of 1997 her family purchased a home in Winfield, and Rachel was enrolled in Winfield Middle School. Mrs. Mahoney pushed her in reading and writing. Mr. Murray engaged Rachel in math. He had a sense of humor that forged a connection with a young person struggling to find her sense of community.
At West Chicago Community High School Rachel dived into advanced placement classes and an abundance of extra-curricular programs: SADD; Choir; Math Team; FBLA; International Club; WeGo Through the Tube; Snowball as Student Director; and Junior State of America (JSA) as a Summer School Fellow at Georgetown University. As Co-founder and Vice President of the high school’s JSA chapter, she organized a large get-out-the-vote campaign registering people to vote at football games and other school events. As a sophomore Rachel won the Gwendolyn Brooks/John Husar Memorial Essay Award. The theme was “A Moment that Changed Your Life”. Rachel’s submission was titled “A Million Candle Cake”, which later became the basis for her college and law school entrance essays. In her junior and senior years she tutored middle school and high school students at DuPage County Area Project (DuCAP) and was an Independent Study Teaching Assistant for WeGo’s Government Seminar program.
Rachel credits the WeGo faculty including her counselor Peg Arnold, teachers Shawn Healy, Steve Arnold, Patricia Santella, Mary Rash, Barb Laimins and Principal John Highland for their inspiration and guidance and for instilling in her a deep regard for academic excellence. Mr. Healy and Mrs. Arnold encouraged Rachel to attend the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where both Mr. and Mrs. Arnold checked in on her throughout her years as a Political Science and Sociology major. In 2010 she received her Juris Doctor degree from DePaul University College of Law and opened her own immigration law practice in 2011.
After a long and nerve-racking journey, Rachel Moguel became a United States citizen in 2008, nearly 17 years after her family’s arrival. She draws from her own immigration experience to advocate for her clients on their path towards lawful status and family reunification. Her mission is to bring peace and confidence to all those seeking immigration benefits in the United States.
“I will never forget the anxiety and fear I felt as a young girl due to the threat of deportation. Every time I can rid one child, one adult, or one family of that same fear, it helps me heal from the wounds caused by my own immigration story.” — Rachel Moguel
Today Rachel Moguel looks out the windows of her law offices in Oak Brook, Illinois toward the Chicago skyline to the east, Winfield to the west, and Mexico City to the south. She recalls her family’s struggle to establish a foothold and ultimately citizenship in the United States. Through sheer perseverance and key support from teachers, family and church members along the way, this young energetic attorney now provides immigrant families the legal expertise and advocacy her own family lacked.
In addition to serving her many clients Rachel was appointed to the Illinois Latino Family Commission and was accepted into the Leadership Academy of the Chicago Latino Caucus Foundation. She offers “Know Your Rights” lectures, workshops on navigating the path to citizenship, and free legal screening at churches and other community organizations. She regularly volunteers with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the New Americans Initiative, World Relief, Family Focus, and at the Elgin Community Crisis Center where she provides pro bono representation and trains staff to identify and assist immigrant victims of human trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence.
West Chicago Community High School and the CHS Educational Foundation are proud to honor Rachel Moguel, class of 2003, with the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for Immigration Law.
Award presented by WCCHS teacher Brian Wheeler.Author: Becky Koltz Length: