On a cold, windy day this week, Luis Castaneda was laid to rest nearly two weeks after the undocumented immigrant committed suicide over the fear of deportation, his family said.
“He was very afraid of being deported,” his mother, Doris Castaneda, told Fox 11 news in an interview after his tragic end.
Pastor Fred Morris of North Hills United Methodist Church, who has been helping the family, said that on Feb, 9 Castaneda got into a fender-bender. “He talked with the owner of the other car, who was very understanding and said that his insurance would cover the matter,” Morris said.
But a non-Latino neighbor showed up and said he was going to call the police.
“Luis implored him not to do that, as he feared the police would turn him over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) who would deport him.”
Luis didn’t know that the Los Angeles Police Department does not cooperate with ICE as a matter of policy, with Los Angeles being a “Sanctuary City.” (The county Sheriff’s Department has cooperated with ICE officials on raids.)
When he saw the police arriving, Luis was so terrified he drove off. A short while later, in his car, he shot himself, “preferring to die rather than face deportation to a country he never knew,” Pastor Morris wrote on a Facebook post.
He was found dead in his car at the corner of Martha Street and Corbin Avenue, right next to the 101 Freeway in Reseda.
Friends expressed their dismay at the tragedy.
“He gave me and my brother a job when we needed it, he always took care of his kids, man…I’m broken to hear my friend left us,” Cee Los Ramirez posted on Facebook.
Castaneda — known as “Trippy”— arrived in the US from Guatemala in 1985 with his parents. He was seven years old.
He grew up in North Hills, went to high school, and had been working as a tattoo artist in his adult life. He was married and had four children.
“Though his parents managed to get citizenship, he never quite qualified, and so has remained undocumented. He had no criminal record and was working…paying taxes and supporting his family,” Morris said.
“He grew up here and had no recollection of his country of origin. His entire family lives in the United States,” Morris added.
His mother told the television news station that it might be hard for people to understand the fear that gripped her son. But for the undocumented Latinos who have never gone back to the country of their birth, and speak poor Spanish, being kicked out of the only nation they know is leaving behind “a whole life in this country.”
While the basis of his fear – that LAPD would call Immigration authorities on him – was wrong, deportation is always hanging over those without legal status.
Just last week, ICE officials reported they had arrested more than 212 undocumented immigrants in an opera-tion throughout Southern California.
Last year, a total of 32,833 Guatemalans were returned from the United States, according to that country’s Directorio General de Migración (Immigration Department). So far this year, 1,841 have been returned as well.
An estimated three million Guatemalans live in the United States, with 800,000 of them being undocumented, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
de Guatemala (Guatemalan Foreign Department).
For many like Castaneda, who don’t know the country they were born in, the prospect of leaving their life in the United States behind is incredibly stressful.
And those fears may not be completely unfounded.
Dangers Back Home
Maria Martin, a reporter based in Antigua, Guatemala emphasizes that the Central American country “is a dangerous country.”
“Deportees are sometimes targeted because they have family in the (United) States and they may be prone to extortion,” Martin said.
She added that someone like Castaneda, who didn’t speak Spanish fluently and didn’t know anyone or anything about his country of origin, would find several difficulties.
“Some deportees feel discriminated against, some people might consider them gang members. Many find it difficult to find work,” in part because they might lack proper documents, she said.
Some find work in call centers where their English-speaking skills are useful. But other than that, employment is limited.
All of that might have been too much for Castaneda.
Paola Rios opened a GoFundMe account to help the family and described him as loved by many.
“Everyone knew him as a caring, charismatic individual,” Rios said. “He was a passionate tattoo artist who will be remembered as a bright shining beacon of love. He will forever be missed by everyone.”
If you would like to help the family, visit https://www.gofundme.com/54vnmfk.