Could Passage of the DREAM Act Have Saved Joaquin Luna?

Despite being a good student with dreams of becoming an engineer, 18-year-old Joaquin Luna committed suicide the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Why?  His family insists that the Mission, Texas teen (who was brought illegally to the U.S. by his parents as a six month old baby) became depressed after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act failed to pass Congress last December.  In a note addressed to Jesus Christ, he suggests he has no future:

“Jesus, I’ve realized that I have no chance of becoming a Civil Engineer the way I’ve always dreamed of here.”

The Juarez-Lincoln High School senior did not specifically name Congress’ failure to pass the DREAM Act as the reason why he was ending his life, which prompted Hidalgo County sheriff Lupe Treviño to speculate to the Houston Chronicle that this tragedy was being used for political gain:

“What really bothers me is that there's somebody out there attempting to exploit this poor young man's decision to commit suicide and try to politicize it with failure of the DREAM Act and immigration issues.”

What drove Luna to take his life?  We may never know.  But his death has prompted DREAM Act supporters to organize vigils, raise awareness of the psychological pressures DREAMers face that can lead to depression, and renew calls for this legislation’s passage.

The DREAM Act only impacts a fraction—up to 500,000 according to the Congressional Budget Office—of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. It requires that anyone benefitting from the legislation was brought to the U.S. before age 16; has lived here at least five years; never committed a serious crime; earned a high school diploma or GED; and be college or military-bound.

Last December, the House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 216-198 but it lost the support of key Republicans in the Senate, including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and never made it to the floor for a final vote.

Then there’s the game-changing 2012 election: Will the balance of power in Congress shift away from Republican control in the House?  Will Senate Democrats increase their slim majority?  Will President Barack Obama, who didn’t deliver on his promise of immigration reform, be re-elected?  If Latinos register to vote en masse, will this electoral group flex its political muscle to influence politicians’ decision to vote or block this legislation?  Most importantly, regardless of the party, will there be political will to tackle the hot topic of immigration reform, including the DREAM Act?

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