A DREAM Deferred

“..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 activistJoaquin 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 Blasé, 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

9 thoughts on “A DREAM Deferred”

  1. I’m a little late responding to this, but I’m curious about the validity of not receiving financial aid as a legitimate caveat in these citizenship discussions.  Most citizens don’t receive adequate financial aid, and they can’t receive additional aid from states they don’t legally reside in.  That’s not to say that I don’t wholeheartedly support efforts to help these kids out, but I just find this particular argument to be misplaced.  I do believe that citizens deserve first dibs on federal funds.

    1. Most citizens dont receive financial aide under Bush era regulation cuts (i.e. cutting funding to Pell Grants, the amount of federal aide received and so on) which is reflective of a shitty education system as a whole. Why do you think citizens deserve it more? Do citizens deserve it more if they have worst grades or have proven to be a less qualified student? Do undocumented citizens deserve it less even if they have lived as a US citizen their entire life? Its an argument that tends to lead to other places like, well, do undocumented citizens deserve access to our healthcare? Do they deserve housing? Or education in general?

      The DREAM Act was supposed to provide financial access and citizenship for undocumented students leading to things like federal funds granted that students stuck by a  rigorous guideline. It doesnt mean federal funds are being given away for free to just anyone, but that federal funds would become accessible to those who intended to become citizens. The truth of the matter is, now that the DREAM Act has failed, our crappy federal aid system will only go to citizens.




      1. When legal citizens move to a different state, they have to change their official documents and usually live there for a mandated amount of time before they have access to state-specific aid.  That makes logical sense to me.  I don’t think it’s right to remove those constraints for people who aren’t legal citizens.  I think federal funds should be given to citizens because I wouldn’t move to another country, apply to a university there, and expect to receive money from a government that I and my parents have never paid into.  I think a country has to take care of its own before it can cater to non-citizens.

        1. Right and I agree with you to an extent. However, you are leaving out the fact that  DREAMer’s are undocumented due to the fact that they were brought over to the states when they were very young, yet have no citizenship, even after living in the US for most of their life. Thats very different from me voluntarily choosing to move to another country, in my adult life, to pursue an education.

          1. And then we get into the issue of how most of us have to answer for choices our parents have made.  As a whole, most Americans have suffered abuse, or lived with a parent’s dumbass financial decision, or had to overcome piss-poor mental genetics to get into college for the sake of future employment.  I do agree that undocumented kids should be able to earn citizenship, but again, I feel that the “It’s my parents’ fault, not mine!” isn’t actually a relevant issue.  I’m not even sure that entry into American universities is as big an issue in the immigration/citizenship discourse as it’s made out to be.  I always felt like the DREAM Act was a slimy way to reject illegal immigrants from colleges in order to funnel them into our military.

            1. While I agree that the DREAM act had issues like funneling young adults into the military, it was also much more than that. I’m getting the impression that you are making these statements based out of your own experience, not the experiences that are touched on in the actual piece or from commenter justpasisngby below. Yes most citizens come from difficult backgrounds but we are also citizens which makes the potential to better oneself much easier than living in the state of being raised in America, yet not able to legally access any of those privileges. There’s a legal wall, plain and simple. To assume that entry into universities is not as “big of an issue” in the immigration discourse as its made out to be is to assume very much. If it wasnt as big of a deal that you claim it to be, then DREAM activists would probably not be getting arrested in Alabama for trying to attend school, nor would Luna have committed suicide.

              I would also recommend not using the term “illegal immigrant” as its really dehumanizing, another fact I mentioned in the piece. If you need to find out more information on why the term itself is dehumanizing and considered a slur,as well as the importance of accessible education to undocumented students, I would strongly suggest taking a look at Colorlines “Drop the I-word” campaign.

  2. I’m glad this was brought up on PM. I’ve been reading for awhile, and now I’d like to expand on this issue with my own experiences as an undocumented youth.

    Like Joaquin, I struggled with depression because of my status, and have definitely more than just had passing thoughts of suicide.

    I wake up every morning wondering what it is that impedes what I sometimes perceive to be the inevitable, given the circumstances that plague my life. I’ve sought counseling for these struggles, hoping that talking through them will mitigate at least some part of the pain. Instead I often find myself at an impasse when I’m faced with the question, “Why? Why do you feel this way?”, and words remain unsaid because I fear what the consequences of confessing my status will be, even in a supposedly therapeutic environment.

    The mainstream media, such that it is, is perfectly satisfied in presenting those of us in this circumstances as merely numbers and scapegoats to be left at the slaughterhouse.

    The anti-immigrant factions in the U.S. have inculcated their beliefs so insiduously that blanket statements about how we’re all criminals and evading taxes is often taken as fact. Organizations with white-supremacist roots like FAIR and CIR put on the guise of being “reasonable” to hide the racist motivations for their opposition to the DREAM Act. And unfortunately, many are not privy to these truths. Their figureheads often claim they aren’t being “heartless” when spouting their harsh opposition to certain immigration bills, yet, look at what has happened.

    Joaquin is not the only victim of our broken immigration laws. I’m afraid he won’t be the last, either. Those of us deeply entrenched in these circumstances must struggle daily with the threat of being separated from our families, our homes, and forced to go somewhere that is our “home” only on paper.

    The psychological impact that such attitudes and depictions of those of us who are undocumented is a severly underreported phenomenon. Thank you, Coco Papy, for writing about this. More people need to be aware of the real consequences that broken laws yield.

    All I ask is a chance at becoming legal so that I can contribute fully to the U.S. Not that I don’t try already; I do have an ITIN (tax identification number), which legally obligates me to pay taxes yearly.  Time permitting, I volunteer to help people coping with even more dire conditions.

    But, you know, I’m just an evil brown person out to take yerr jobs.

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