Mona Mahraoui does not know what Morocco looks like.
Though she was born there, the 17-year-old John Adams High School student from Far Rockaway has lived in the United States since she was 2 years old. Her parents brought her and her brother here from Casablanca, Morocco, for a better life, Mona said.
“For the past 15 years, I’ve lived here undocumented,” she said.
It was only when she was in middle school that she discovered she was undocumented.
“I never really understood what it meant,” she said.
Because she is here illegally, she has never left the country and has never been back to Morocco.
“I have no memories of Morocco,” she said. “It’s not my home, it’s not part of who I am, it’s an unknown land full of strangers. My earliest memories are in America.”
Nevertheless, Mona has been in deportation proceedings since she was a freshman in high school. But that has not stopped her from speaking out in favor of reforming the country’s immigration system, as the debate over what that reform will look like begins to heat up in Washington, DC.
Appearing in an online video, “The Golden Door,” Mona tells her story, what it means to be in America and how her undocumented status is hurting her.
Mona is graduating from John Adams this year and wants to go to college, but for a number of reasons, that isn’t an option.
“I can’t afford college and I can’t get financial aid or a loan,” she said. “I can't even work.”
Her siblings are both legal; her brother married an American and her younger sister was born here and is a citizen, leaving her as the only one in her family who is undocumented.
Mona attended a rally for immigration reform last week in Washington, where she was able to tell her story to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who has joined with seven other senators to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill this week.
Under the Senate’s bill, sponsored by Schumer and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before Dec. 31, 2011 and have stayed in the country continuously could apply for “provisional” legal status as soon as six months after the bill is passed and signed by the president, though the path to citizenship could take more than a decade.
That would include immigrants like Mona, who arrived in America in 1998.
Though she is very vocal about her story now, Mona had reservations about coming out in the open.
“At first I didn’t want to tell anyone. I was ashamed of it,” she said. “Then one of my teachers said ‘this isn't something you should be ashamed of.’”
She said making the video has allowed her to meet other undocumented immigrants at John Adams and get to know them and their stories.
“After they saw my documentary, they got comfortable with me and told me they're in the same situation,” Mona said.