Did Joaquin Luna Commit Suicide over The DREAM Act?

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The day after Thanksgiving, 18 year-old high school student Joaquin Luna of Mission, Texas, put on a suit and tie, kissed his family goodbye, went into the bathroom, and shot himself in the head. He died instantly.

Luna, who was born across the border from Roma, Texas, and was brought to this country at the age of six months, was the kind of student to which Texas grants in-state tuition and financial aid. He had an affinity for math and science, and a report card full of A’s and B’s. What he didn’t have was American citizenship.

In an interview with Rio Grande Valley CBS affiliate KGBT, Luna’s brother Dire Mendoza said his little brother was distraught over his illegal status, adding in an interview with Fox News Latino, that the death of the DREAM Act left Luna with little hope of ever fulfilling his own dream of becoming an engineer to help better the financial situation of his mother.

I think he did it to have politicians have more heart and give other kids the opportunity he thought he was never given. If this DREAM Act would have passed this would never have happened.

But late Tuesday, KGBT reported a different story coming from unnamed sources close to the situation. Those sources said claims that Luna killed himself over his undocumented status and the death of the DREAM Act were simply “not true.”

They went on to say that Luna left behind eight to nine letters to people close to him, including his sisters and brothers and his best friend. KGBT’s sources said the letters mentioned nothing about the DREAM Act or his immigration status.

Luna’s principal, Clem Garza, also said that Luna was in the process of applying to colleges when he took his life and that he never mentioned anything about the DREAM Act or feeling discouraged about his status standing in the way of his goals.

While Luna’s family admitted they’d not seen the letters, they’re sticking to their belief that he committed suicide because of an uncertain future due to his undocumented status.

In the fallout, both liberals and conservatives have taken the suicide of Joaquin Luna as a symbol for their cause. Either he is a “Matthew Shepherd for the Immigration Reform movement” or he is “one less illegal drain on the system.”

What is for certain is that turning 18 as an undocumented person in this country is life altering. University of Chicago sociologist Roberto Gonzales recently pioneered a study about the ways in which young undocumented people learn of and cope with the effects of their immigration status, as recently reported by UChicago News. Luna’s age is the typical time when problems occur:

Most of those surveyed told Gonzales that they first had to deal with their status between the ages of 16 and 18, usually when they sought part-time jobs, driver’s licenses or admission to college — all of which require applicants either to have a Social Security number or to verify their immigration status. Many had lived their childhood unaware that they were not U.S. citizens.

Many respondents told Gonzales that they felt confused, angry, frustrated, scared and stigmatized when they learned of their immigration status. Their social habits changed out of fear of who to trust. Career plans halted. Arrest and deportation became constant threats for many, Gonzales said.

We may never know if the death of the DREAM Act played a role in the suicide of Joaquin Luna. But perhaps more importantly, his death has reopened a dialogue about the people behind the “illegal” label.

Cindy Casares is a columnist for the Texas Observer. She is also the founding Editor of Guanabee Media, an English-language, pop culture blog network about Latinos established in 2007. She has a Master's in Mass Communications from Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter. Prior to her career in journalism, she spent ten years in New York City as an advertising copywriter. During her undergraduate career at the University of Texas she served under Governor Ann Richards as a Senate Messenger during the 72nd Texas Legislature.