“Dedication, effort and hard work has always been with my family…We were taught to never give up in life and to always keep moving forward no matter the obstacles we face. I’ve set up goals to become the first in my family to go to college and have fought hard to get to where I stand now.”
These words were written by Joaquín Luna, an 18-year-old Mission, Texas high school senior, aspiring engineer, and talented guitar player, who committed suicide in late November.
According to family members, the day after Thanksgiving, Joaquin dressed up in a suit and tie as if he was going to church, said goodbye, went to the bathroom and shot himself in the head.
He was worried that his plan to go to college would be crushed by his status as an undocumented student, that his dream of setting an example for his siblings and helping his mother financially, would never come true.
After Congress failed earlier this year to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legalization for qualifying students who enrolled in college or joined the military, the dreams of Joaquin and thousands of other young people who grew up in the United States, were once again put on hold.
“His world just closed,” lamented his brother Dire Mendoza. “It’s like all these kids that are here, they’re all dependent on the DREAM Act to keep on studying,” Mendoza said to KGBT 4 news.
As they prepared for his funeral, his family hoped his death would send a strong message to Washington.
“I think he did it to tell politicians to have more heart, and give other kids the opportunity he thought he was never given. If this DREAM Act would have passed, this would have never have happened,” stated Mendoza to Fox News Latino.
“I think it is very tragic, that such a young person would take his life because his dream of going to college was blocked. This is not acceptable,” expressed Rita Haecker, president of the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA).
“He would have inspired many in his family and been a role model,” added Haecker, who feels a personal connection to Joaquin, as she was also the first member of her family to go to college.
According to Haecker, by not approving the DREAM Act, politicians are turning their backs on the future of the nation and denying the opportunity of thousands of talented young people to transform their communities.
The bi-partisan bill was originally introduced in Congress in 2001. A subsequent version was passed by the House of Representatives in December 2010, but in the Senate the legislation failed passage short of five votes.
A report by the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the DREAM Act would “reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion over the 2011-2020 period and increase government revenues by $2.3 billion over the next 10 years.”
“We need more young capable minds, we need lawyers and doctors and scientists, and these students are working hard. They have proven that they are assets to this country. It is irresponsible to raise a child and grow them, educate them and then trash what they could accomplish,” explains Haecker.
“Our primary role as educators is to advocate so that our children have the opportunity to achieve and be successful. Day in an day out we encourage our young people and are there to do whatever it takes to support them so they can make their dreams come true.”
The news of Joaquin’s death has saddened his teachers, his community and DREAM Act activists, who are now honoring his life through vigils, posters and web tributes. One tribute reads: “You don’t need papers to enter heaven,” next to a picture of Joaquin.
“Joaquin was a model student at Juarez-Lincoln High School who excelled not only academically, but also stood out as an excellent guitar player. He was a straight-A student,” recalled Alda T. Benavides, superintendent of the La Joya Independent School District.
“I cannot express the sorrow I feel on the loss of such a talented young man … As Joaquin Luna’s body is laid to rest, I relieve it’s imperative to underscore the urgency of passing the DREAM Act,” stated Texas representative Rubén Hinojosa as he took to the floor of the House after learning of Joaquin’s death.
“Without question, DREAM students exemplify the best of American ideals: such as hard work, perseverance, and the Desire to contribute to our nation’s workforce, economy and civic life.”