NORTH OF PALMVIEW – A sign in Joaquin Luna’s home reads in Spanish, “To get to heaven, you don’t need papers.”
Luna’s brother Diyer Mendoza believes not having “papers” or a legal residency or citizenship status was the reason the 18-year-old high school senior killed himself Friday. Luna, an A and B student who wanted to become a civil engineer, didn’t think he could get into a college or even get a job afterward because he lived in the U.S. illegally.
“By the beginning of this year we started noticing little changes, like little worries, in him,” Mendoza said, explaining that Luna began to apply to colleges like Michigan State University and Baylor University.
“When he would submit the application, he would tell us the first thing that pops up was: ‘Are you a citizen?’ or ‘Are you a legal resident?’ ‘Do you have a Social Security number?’
“And he didn’t, and so from there he would get shut down,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza, 35, remembers watching and reading the news with his brother about the passage of harsher immigration laws and the failure of the U.S. Dream Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for qualifying immigrant students or members of the military who were brought to the U.S. as children. Luna told Mendoza that he was upset about the news and didn’t think he would be able to get into college. Still, the family had no idea how depressed Luna really was, Mendoza said.
Although his brothers and sisters are U.S. citizens, Luna was born while his mother, a U.S. resident, was taking a trip to Mexico, Mendoza said.
On Friday, Luna left notes for his family members before going into the shower and shooting himself, Mendoza said. Sheriff’s investigators took the letters, but one investigator told Mendoza that Luna wrote that he was going to take his life because he didn’t have a legal status and wouldn’t be able to continue his education. Mendoza said he did not see the notes before the investigators took them.
Sheriff Lupe Treviño said investigators and medical examiners determined that the death was a suicide, but would not say anything further because the office does not comment on suicides.
Luna’s story has made its way into media outlets around the United States and other countries, including Mexico and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the upcoming U.S. presidential election has put a spotlight on the immigration debate.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, has come under fire from his opponents for supporting the so-called Texas Dream Act, which gives in-state tuition to some students who have entered the country illegally. Perry has said his goal is make sure the immigrants become contributing members of society.
That’s exactly what Luna wanted to do, Mendoza said. Luna, who was a migrant worker when he was younger, wanted to get to work as soon as possible so he could support his family.
“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,” Luna wrote in a November application essay for a scholarship program.
On Saturday, Luna’s family received his acceptance letter to the University of Texas-Pan American, Mendoza said.
Clem Garza, the principal of Juarez-Lincoln High where Luna went to school, described him as respectful and bent on going to college. Although Garza did not know Luna personally, she spoke to several of his teachers and friends.
Luna did not talk much, but his friends recalled that most of the conversations they had revolved around college and their futures, Garza said. Teachers and friends were in shock over Luna’s death, saying they had not noticed anything amiss with him.
“We just don’t have any answers,” Garza said.
Luna was in the top 20 percent of his class and did especially well in his engineering and classical guitar courses, Garza said, adding later that he was “bound for greatness.”
Luna even designed the layout of his family’s home, which they built about six months ago, Mendoza said. Mendoza said he hopes his brother’s story will help others.
“By his death, somebody else can learn and have an example, you can say you know they need help, they need the chance,” he said, “because you never know: In one of those kids, there could be an Albert Einstein … and they’re getting robbed out of their opportunity just for a legal status.”
Gail Burkhardt covers Mission, western Hidalgo County, Starr County and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4462.
Follow Gail Burkhardt on Twitter: @GailBurkhardt
Visitation for Joaquin Luna will be at the Ric Brown Family Funeral Home at 621 East Griffin Parkway in Mission from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday. His burial will be Thursday morning.
The family is accepting donations to help pay for the burial. Donations can be submitted to account number 8230051136 at Capital One Bank locations.