An illegal-immigrant student in Texas who committed suicide the day after Thanksgiving left letters saying he felt trapped by his lack of opportunities and, according to his family, he “decided to sacrifice himself for the cause.”
High school senior Joaquin Luna, 18, put on a suit, kissed family members, went into the bathroom and shot himself Friday, according to his brother, Diyer Mendoza. In the letters he left, his brother said, Luna expressed despair at the chances for the federal Dream Act, which would legalize illegal-immigrant students and young adults.
Congress blocked the legislation last year.
“He was actually doing this for the cause, mainly the Dream Act,” Mr. Mendoza said. “He was doing this to show politicians, to show that something had to be done because there are a lot of kids out there in the same situation.”
The case casts a dramatic spotlight on the hundreds of thousands of illegal-immigrant students who are caught between a decision their parents made when they were young and the realities of U.S. immigration law.
Immigrant rights advocates said politicians in Washington should take notice of Luna’s act.
“His death is an indictment on the failure of this administration to move an inch forward on fixing a broken immigration system,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, which has planned a commemoration on Friday for Luna.
“I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that we’re going to use his death as a football or anything like that. We need to honor his memory, and we need to remind other Americans what this young man was about - because that’s the kind of people we’re talking about,” Mr. Cabrera said.
A local news report said the letters were turned over to the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department.
That office did not return a message Monday seeking information.
Luna was a student at Benito Juarez-Abraham Lincoln High School in Mission, Texas, where he earned A and B grades, and was a regular worshipper at a Baptist church, his brother said.
Mr. Mendoza said the rest of the family has legal status but not all are citizens. His mother went into labor while she was in Reynosa, Mexico, which meant her Luna was not a U.S. citizen.
Luna applied to colleges. Although some showed interest, Mr. Mendoza said, his brother’s legal status made him ineligible for some scholarships and meant he wouldn’t be able to work legally once his schooling was finished.
“His world just closed,” Mr. Mendoza said. “He saw that there was everything he was doing was just for nothing. He was never going to be able to succeed.”
Students in Luna’s position are among the most difficult of immigration cases. In most instances, they were brought to the U.S. by parents when they were young and have grown up in the U.S. without ties to any other country.
Congressional Democrats tried to push through the Dream Act during the lame-duck session last year. Although the legislation was approved in the House, it was blocked in the Senate after falling five votes shy of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. President Obama backed the legislation.
Opponents said the legislation was too broad, applying to illegal immigrants well past their days as students, and argued that the requirements on those who were eligible weren’t strict enough.
Under a Supreme Court ruling, illegal immigrants are entitled to public education at the primary and secondary levels.
Alabama this year enacted a law that requires public school students and their parents to disclose their legal status, though the law doesn’t bar those students from attending school. A federal court has blocked that provision from being implemented.
Decisions on public higher education, however, are left to the states, which have differed on whether to charge illegal immigrant students in-state or out-of-state tuition. Many states argue that illegal immigrants can’t be legal state residents and must pay out-of-state rates, but Texas and California have gone the other direction.
With Texas Gov. Rick Perry running for the GOP’s presidential nomination, his state’s stance has drawn national attention.
“In the state of Texas where Mexico has a clear and a long relationship with this state, we decided it was in the best interest of those young people to give them the opportunity to go on to college and to have the opportunity,” Mr. Perry said at a debate in September. “They’re pursuing citizenship in this country rather than saying, ‘You know, we’re going to put you over here and put you on the government dole for the rest of your life.’”
In a comment that infuriated some conservative groups, Mr. Perry said critics of the Texas law did not “have a heart,” although he later tempered his criticism.
Other candidates said the favorable treatment in Texas and other states effectively rewards illegal behavior.
“The American way is not to give taxpayer-subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican.
In the absence of the Dream Act, Mr. Obama has tried to take administrative action. The Homeland Security Department has issued a memo to its immigration services saying those who would have qualified for the Dream Act should be low on the priority list for deportation. It also listed other factors, such as caring for a family, that would lower the risk of deportation.
Immigrant rights groups say the administration could go further and issue a blanket stay of deportations for illegal immigrant students. Mr. Obama said he does not have the authority to take such action.