Monday, November 28, 2011


The Joaquin Luna DREAM Act

This story makes my heart hurt.

Joaquin Luna, a high school senior in California, committed suicide on Friday. He wanted to become an engineer to provide a better life for his mother, but realized that his status as an illegal immigrant made that impossible. Despondent over the failure of the DREAM act to pass, he dressed up in a suit and tie, said goodbye to his family, and shot himself in the head.

Any parent knows, intuitively, that the death of a child is the single worst thing that can happen. My condolences to his family, and to all who knew him.

I’ll concede upfront that it’s impossible to know everything that was going on in someone’s mind. Many people face obstacles and disappointments and don’t respond the way he did.

But it’s hard not to admit that he had a point. That’s what makes the story even more wrenching than so many others.

The DREAM act offers legal status to people who came to this country illegally as young children, conditional on their attainment of a college degree or on performing military service. It gives people who simply came with their parents a chance to attain full membership in the society in which they grew up. Since many of the people covered by the act came across the border as toddlers or young children, the United States is really their home. K-12 districts are required to educate these kids, so many of these kids go all the way through and graduate, only to hit a wall at the end of high school.

I recognize that there are complicated issues around adult immigration. But around kids who come with their parents, I have a hard time seeing it. Joaquin saw, correctly, that he was essentially confined to a lower caste through no fault of his own. He got the message -- again, with some warrant -- that the United States didn’t really want him. And since he wanted so badly to be here and to work hard for his family -- values that, in other contexts, we claim to hold -- he just couldn’t accept a life sentence to being the working poor.

It’s fashionable lately for people with highfalutin’ degrees to ask whether college is necessary. But on the ground, it clearly is. Yes, student loan debt is a serious issue, but the basic truth still holds that you’re economically better off with a degree than without one.

Yes, there should be economically viable alternatives for people who don’t go to college. But that category shouldn’t be decided by the time a kid is six years old. The way to tamp down the student loan bubble isn’t to ban brown people from college; it’s to get costs under control and restore subsidies through progressive taxation.

Joaquin Luna was, I’m sure, a complicated, three-dimensional person. It would be a mistake to reduce his suicide to a simple political statement. But it would also be a mistake to ignore the message that he was apparently trying to send. He saw that his adopted country was willing to visit the sins of the father upon the son, and the burden was too great for him to bear. Now a family is grieving, and a country has lost a driven young man cursed with insight.

I hope that when the act comes up again -- and passes -- it bears his name. Let the Joaquin Luna DREAM act ensure that we never consign anyone to a lower caste because he followed his parents here as a child.

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As a white guy who was born here, I agree with your premise. It just isn't the American way to truly create a caste system.

But, the DREAM act isn't just about college. It's about becoming a legal immigrant. Is a college degree required to succeed in this country? Who knows. But one sure as @#$%#$ has a better chance of succeeding if he or she has a legal right to work in this country. Absent the DREAM act, Joaquin didn't even have that, and I think that would make me depressed and despondent, too.
That's a lot of words, but the problem is that what you are describing isn't a problem or a waste to conservatives. It's a mildly uplifting story about the good consequences of their preferred legislation.
Though I've historically been in favor of immigrants who have "followed the rules" in coming to America, the reality is that the current immigration system is busted and must be fixed. The DREAM Act is one small step in making things right by certain children who are lacking status through no fault of their own. Eligibility for legal status through college education is one component of the DREAM Act, military service is another. These are the type of people we want in our country, it is in the nation's best interest to let them remain. Unfortunately, since the immigration debate is so emotional, there are those who will never accept this argument and the immigration system will remain broken.
If you're an unskilled worker trying to feed your family, there's no way to "follow the rules" to come to the US--simply because we don't grant work visas to the unskilled.

And folks who claim that their ancestors followed the rules when they emigrated are often ignoring the fact that, until relatively recently, there were no rules.

Like hundreds of thousands of others, my grandparents came to the US from Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. They just paid a small fee, crossed the border, and that was that. They didn't need no estinkin' papers because the border was open until the early 1920s. Ditto for the millions who came from Europe via Ellis Island.

And none of them began speaking only English as soon as they got off the boat.


Thank you so much for taking the time to write this blog. This particular story hurts my heart as well. As a young adult, I have been conflicted over the few friends I have made who are in the same situation as Joaquin- fortunately, they have not lost their hope.

As someone who works in student services within higher ed, I feel that I am programmed and conditioned to provide access and encouragement for students. It is so frustrating to have no means when it comes to children of illegal immigrants.

All that said, I really just wanted to thank you for this blog. I have never commented on any of your submissions before, but I wanted you to know that I am a regular- and that I am often encouraged in my own work by having this little outlet to teach, entertain, ponder, etc.
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