“..The people passing these laws had no heart: how could they leave so many kids without parents and destroy so many lives?” – Joaquin Luna
The Urban Institute estimates that more than 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year. These students have a legal to right to education from pre-school to 12th grade, pending no further states outdo both Arizona and Alabama’s recent legislation. While there is no specific law mandating that undocumented students can be denied admission due to their status, many undocumented students face serious barriers to higher education due to their legal ineligibility to receive federal aid, which restrict help from work-study programs, most scholarships, grants, and both federal and private student loans. Most states bar undocumented students from receiving state-based financial aid and while some colleges and universities do offer specialized policies offering lower tuitions, higher education can prove to be a serious burden to many undocumented students.
The stress of this can be overwhelming, a fact that was driven home by the suicide of 18-year-old student and Texas DREAM activist, Joaquin Luna. Luna was a senior at Juarez Lincoln High School in Mission, Texas, and like many undocumented children who have lived here for the bulk of their life, joined DREAM to help students who, due to their status, cannot receive financial aid or work legally in the U.S. The DREAM Act, a bill that was intended to help students like Luna by granting conditional legal status and potential citizenship under certain criteria like staying active in college, was passed by the House last December, only to be shot down by the Republican-dominated Senate. The defeat was a huge blow, a clear message to undocumented persons that was only heightened by the passage of some of the nation’s strictest immigration laws.
Luna left behind a series of letters in which he talked openly about the desperation he had carried since the 2010 failure of the DREAM Act, as well as his fear of potential anti-immigration laws in Texas. His dream of becoming an engineer seem impossible due to his status, no matter how great his grades were or how long he had been in the States. He was still on the other side of that wall that so many undocumented people end up being on, with little legal protection, resources, and opportunities for advancement. Not only are options limited, but the constant projection of racism and xenophobia lodged at undocumented communities is growing, with hate crimes against Hispanics on the rise, vilifying those who seek only a better life and scapegoating them with everything from the staggering economy to the broken healthcare system. To operate outside a certain boundary of society is hard enough, but when you are constantly reminded that you are thought of as sub-human, one can only understand why Luna was left feeling desperate.
According to The Guardian, Luna’s brother, Carlos Mendoza, sees Luna’s death in larger terms. From Ed Pilkington’s interview:
“Everybody has a mission in life and I think this was his ““ to communicate to people what’s going on in America.”
Luna’s death is a serious tragedy that serves as a warning call to those who think that immigration is a strictly legal/not legal issue. Students face tremendous barriers due to their parents’ and their own status and the denial of the the most basic rights, evidenced best by harmful and dehumanizing words like “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien.”
We will not allow the story of Joaquin Luna to go away easily… we will remember the actions of 2010 when politicians ask for our Latino vote in 2012. It is the responsibility of federal lawmakers to fix the broken immigration system. U.S. Senators get elected to do the job Americans expect of them and to fix broken systems that will benefit Americans and the American economy.” –DeeDee BlasÃ©, founder of the Tequila Party
Luna was an eighteen-year-old kid who wanted to be an engineer. He wanted to go to school. He wanted to get a job. He wanted to do all the normal things that most of us aspire to, to improve ourselves, to prepare ourselves for giving back. It isn’t entitlement. It isn’t a handout. It’s what everyone wants: a better life for themselves. Luna will never have that, but maybe, just maybe, his death will stir enough in people to realize that there are many who deserve these things.
Dedication, effort and hard work has always been with my family, all done for us children in order to survive in this world. At a young age we were taught to never give up in life and to always keep moving forward no matter the obstacles we face. The toughest job I have ever done was picking asparagus off the fields, in Big Rapids, MI. I still remember the hot sun and the sunburns my family and I would acquire when picking the asparagus the wrong way. That summer I struggled, it seemed like it was never coming to an end. – Joaquin Luna, Fulfilling A Dream In Waiting