Olivas came to the United States and was deported at least three times, but maybe more than six. What was he looking for in the U.S.? What is anybody who comes to the United States looking for? Change, probably. Work, definitely. Most of all, he wanted a chance at a better life. He had a wife. He had daughters. He had guaranteed work in California, as a gardener and a laborer.
But then his wife got sick and died. That was three years ago.
Olivas came to the United States for the first time in 2001, when he was in his late 20s. That same year, he was arrested for transporting more than a hundred pounds of marijuana in his car, bound for San Diego. His rap sheet reads like a litany of desperation: drug smuggling, attempted robbery, falsified documents so that he could work in California.
He served his time, and was summarily deported. He had three children, and kept trying to work in the United States. Every time he was removed, he would return.
Olivas was deported one final time last Wednesday, Feb. 22. Border authorities took him to Tijuana, just over the border, with a plastic bag filled with some belongings.
Half an hour later, Olivas threw himself from the pedestrian walkway next to the border crossing. Photographs show him sprawled on the concrete riverbed, his head resting on that bag. It was the third anniversary of his wife’s death.
Olivas wasn’t the first casualty of American immigration law, but he appears to represent the first suicide since the uptick in removing non-citizens from the United States under President Donald Trump.
Deportation is emotionally fraught at best: Many deportees contemplate suicide during or just after removal proceedings, and many — with their loved ones in a country now barred from them — just give up, living in tents on the street or in riverbeds, drinking or succumbing to drug use.
Activists are calling for more resources in Baja California’s already strained public health and homeless shelter sectors to better help the recently deported, and Mexican towns all along the border are bracing themselves for an onslaught of people under Trump’s new immigration orders. Other Mexicans who’ve been deported told KPBS that suicide among those who’ve been separated from their families is a big problem.
Politics and Protests on Both Sides of the Border
The best forms of protest always have an element of the arts to them, and the border wall functions not only as a barrier, but as a physical as well as a virtual canvas. Here, we Voice of San Diego’s Kinsee Morlan looks at some of the best protests involving the barrier between the United States and Mexico over the years — and how the ascension of Trump has sparked the protest art movement anew.
Family members of activists with the “Mexicali Resiste” movement, which is demanding transparency from Mexico’s and Baja California’s government, say they have been receiving threats from unknown people. Last week, a family of protesters says someone tossed a homemade explosive device at their home, causing minor damage.
Protests have been ongoing in Baja California since the beginning of the year, as once-apolitical people were drawn into the streets by gasoline deregulation (which pushed prices far higher), a dramatically weak peso and possible water privatization as well as ongoing corruption and statewide violence.
Tijuana, once known as a city of vice that has enjoyed a resurgence over the last few years, has become a “global waiting room” for migrants from all over the world, even as Trump’s policies put deportations under the spotlight.
Bids for construction of the new proposed border wall (reminder: There’s already an existing border wall) are set to open March 6. It’s unclear how much money will be appropriated for the wall or where the money will come from.
As immigration raids kick up in Southern California and throughout the nation, various human rights groups are reaching out to undocumented families to inform them of their rights and what to expect as San Diego (like other border cities) wait to find out how much it will affect them. Meanwhile, an immigrant programmer is building a web app so that at-risk families can know when raids are coming — and avoid them.
Sewage – and Anger – Spills Over
Residents of Imperial Beach have been complaining of a mysterious pungent stench for several weeks. It turns out that a Feb. 2 raw sewage spill into the Tijuana River, which took place during rehabilitation of an aging sewer pipe, has been flowing north for two weeks. Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina is calling for an investigation into how border authorities handled the spill, saying it is a matter of national security. Meanwhile, rain continues over the region, threatening to create more backups and spills.
More Border News
• Sinaloa Cartel member Jaime Huerta-Tizoc has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges, saying he smuggled millions of dollars and tons of cocaine and marijuana across the international border. Huerta-Tizoc, a high-level cartel leader, was arrested at the San Ysidro Port of Entry last December.
• Promises of “sanctuary” for immigrants ring hollow, explains Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis.
• The Daily Aztec spoke with students who cross the border every day to attend classes.
• The family of a man killed by border agents in 2010 has settled its lawsuit against the U.S. government for $1 million, Reuters reports.