— Sandra Dibble (@sandradibble) February 23, 2017
Guadalupe Olivas Valencia was surrounded by cars and surveillance cameras as he made his last, desperate attempt to cross the border from Tijuana, Mexico into the U.S. on Monday. Passing through the car lanes of the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest land border crossing in the Western Hemisphere, his odds of making it past immigration authorities were slim.
Border officials soon stopped him. Unable to show legal documents to enter the U.S., Olivas Valencia, 45, was detained, and the following morning, deported. Less than an hour later, Olivas Valencia was seen on a bridge a few hundred feet away from the office where he was deported, throwing himself off it into the dry channel below. Witnesses told local media outlets that the man appeared to be in major distress, and could be heard shouting that he did not want to return to Mexico.
Tijuana police found the man shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday, responding to a 9-1-1 call of an apparent suicide, according to a report obtained by The Washington Post. Olivas Valencia, still alive, lay below the bridge, and next to his head was a plastic bag similar to the one U.S. immigration authorities give to deportees, filled with a change of clothes and food to survive the journey back to Mexico, Mexican media outlets reported.
He was transported to a hospital in grave condition, and minutes later, he died. His death was being investigated as a suicide by the Baja California Attorney General’s Office Wednesday, and quickly sparked anger on both sides of the border. Immigrant rights advocates used his story as an illustration of the sense of desperation and oppression felt by many undocumented immigrants, heightened further by Trump’s recent crackdown on deportations.
But it was far from the first time Olivas Valencia had been deported by immigration authorities. Olivas Valencia, a native of Sinaloa, a violent Mexican state and stronghold of a major drug cartel, had been deported at least six times, according to information from the Department of Homeland Security.
Olivas was twice convicted of “illegal reentry” after deportation — classified as a felony — in 2005 at the Yuma County Adult Detention Facility and again in 2015, near the Mexican border in Casa Grande, Arizona. He served federal sentences for both convictions in Arizona and Texas — including a 16-month sentence for the latter case — and was deported after each, in 2007 and 2016.
Olivas had also served time in U.S. prison on other charges, according to documents in federal court in Arizona, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. One involved a 2001 conviction for marijuana possession after he was caught at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry with 128 pounds of marijuana concealed in his gas tank. In 2005, he was stopped in Arizona for “driving a stolen vehicle in tandem with another vehicle toward Mexico,” according to a court document. A search revealed “$8,750 beneath the passenger seat,” the document said.
The day before his death, Olivas had presented himself to U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and, with no legal documents, “was found to be inadmissible,” according to a statement Wednesday from the Department of Homeland Security. “He was repatriated to Mexico on Feb. 21, 2017 and turned over to Mexican officials.”
According to a spokesman from the Baja California Attorney General’s Office, he died from the impact of the fall from the eight-meter-high bridge, which connects the Chaparral border crossing with the northern part of Tijuana, an area littered with bars, canteens and hotels. It is one of main roads for those being removed to Mexico, and was recently built for the passage of trucks from the Ruta Troncal, a new urban transport system, Mexican news outlets reported.
Despite Olivas Valencia’s numerous illegal reentry convictions and deportations, his family members painted a different picture of his life, calling him a humble, hard-working family man. He spent years working illegally as a gardener in California before being deported recently, the Los Angeles Times reported.
His niece Yuriba Valles de Espinoza told the Los Angeles Times that he had worked in California to help provide for his three children back in Mexico after his wife died three years ago.
“He was doing this to take care of his children,” she said. “They were his entire life.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Olivas Valencia’s aunt, Irma Delgado Rios, blamed President Trump for dealing “psychological blows” to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. She said she believed her uncle jumped off the bridge “in desperation over the deportation” because he had had trouble finding work in Mexico.
She told a local television station that “he was scared, he was worried about being deported.”
Hoy hablamos con la familia de Guadalupe Olivas Valencia y nos contaron quién era y cómo había sido deportado en otras 2 ocasiones. pic.twitter.com/XY7T5f52a9
— Ciro Gómez Leyva (@CiroGomezL) February 23, 2017
In Tijuana, while processing the recovery of Olivas Valencia’s body Wednesday, his mother, Cristina Valencia, told reporters that she last spoke to her son on Sunday.
“I do not know the reasons,” she said. “He was very bad and just said goodbye.”
“My son wanted asylum in the United States and they denied it,” she added. The mother, though native to Sinaloa, has been living in Tijuana for more than 30 years, she said. Years ago, she went to work in the United States before returning to Mexico. “That’s why we have a small house here, and I thank the United States, because I worked there for years.”
On Facebook, several of his relatives changed their profile pictures to black ribbons, marking his death. Two of his nieces posted messages about him: “A beautiful uncle — in every sense of the word — passed away,” one wrote.
“We will miss you a lot, uncle,” another wrote. “You are an angel and from heaven you will take care of us.”
Hugo Castro, the Baja California coordinator of Border Angels, an immigrant rights advocacy group, said migrant suicides are not new — he had heard of numerous other cases in which migrants take their own lives along the border. But he felt that Trump’s recent efforts to double down on deportations could exacerbate anxieties among undocumented immigrants and deportees.
The Trump administration sought to avert this growing panic among immigrant communities on Tuesday, insisting the boosted enforcement measures were not intended to produce “mass deportations.” New guidelines outlined in a pair of memos called for the hiring of thousands of additional enforcement agents, expanding the pool of immigrants who are prioritized for removal, speeding up deportation hearings and enlisting local law enforcement to help make arrests.
Those undocumented immigrants prioritized for removal now included not only violent criminals, but also those who have been charged with crimes but not convicted, those who commit acts that constitute a “chargeable criminal offense,” and those who an immigration officer concludes pose “a risk to public safety or national security.”
“Trump has generated an environment of fear that is even pushing immigrants to suicide,” Castro said.
“It’s shameful,” he added. “It’s a consequence of trying to get a piece of the American Dream.”