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KPBS Evening Edition

Deported Mexicans Say Bridge Death Linked To Larger Suicide Problem

A bridge near the U.S.-Mexico border where a deported migrant may have jumped, Feb. 22, 2017.
Matthew Bowler
A bridge near the U.S.-Mexico border where a deported migrant may have jumped, Feb. 22, 2017.

Mexican officials are investigating the death of a man they said likely jumped from a Tijuana bridge footsteps from San Diego about an hour after being deported from the United States.

"The agencies in charge say it's likely he jumped but they have not officially confirmed it," said Rodulfo Figueroa Pacheco, the Baja California representative for Mexico's National Immigration Institute.

Figueroa told KPBS that Guadalupe Olivas Valencia, from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, was detained by U.S. immigration officials on Monday while trying to cross the border through the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Figueroa said Olivas was deported at 8:21 a.m. Tuesday, and was found dead about one hour later.

Deported Mexicans Say Bridge Death Linked To Larger Suicide Problem

In a written statement, Customs and Border Protection told KPBS:

CBP received a report of a man who allegedly jumped off a bridge in Tijuana, Mexico resulting in his death.  On Feb. 20, the man presented himself to CBP officers at the San Ysidro port of entry, had no legal documents to enter the U.S., and was found to be inadmissible.  He was repatriated to Mexico on February 21, 2017, and turned over to Mexican officials.  Out of respect for the family of the deceased, we decline further comment at this time.

The Department of Homeland Security also provided this background on Olivas:

According to DHS databases, Guadalupe Olivas-Valencia, was removed at least six times. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) conducted two of the removals in 2007 and 2016, which occurred after Olivas served federal sentences for two re-entry after deportation (8 U.S.C. §1326) convictions in Arizona and Texas. In 2005 ERO officers encountered Mr. Olivas at the Yuma County Adult Detention Facility, where he was serving time for a 1326 conviction. On Nov. 27, 2006, Upon release from custody, ERO removed Mr. Olivas to Mexico. On Oct. 4, 2016, ERO officers removed Olivas to Mexico after he completed a 16-month criminal sentencing in Texas prison for a 1326 conviction in 2015.

Olivas’ death came on the same morning the Department of Homeland Security announced new guidelines on deporting immigrants in the U.S. illegally, in accordance with President Trump's orders. But Olivas' death does not appear to be connected to the new guidelines.

Miguel Angel Gutierrez says suicides are common among deported Mexicans, Feb. 22, 2017.
Matthew Bowler
Miguel Angel Gutierrez says suicides are common among deported Mexicans, Feb. 22, 2017.

Deported migrants told KPBS that Olivas's death is part of a larger problem of suicides among Mexicans who are separated from their families in the U.S.

Miguel Angel Gutierrez, a 46-year-old who was deported from Los Angeles in 2007, said he himself suffers from depression because his two children are in Los Angeles.

"Some people, they kill themselves, even pills also," he said. "They don't care about what's the next thing, they just do it because they don't have no life, you know? We don't have nothing. Nothing."

Gutierrez said he has been homeless since his deportation because he can't get a formal job without Mexican identification papers. He tries to survive by cleaning the windows of cars stopped at traffic lights in exchange for a few pesos.

"The first day I came out here, I didn't even know this city, I had my stuff and the cops just stopped me, I was walking by and they asked for my ID," he said. "And I don't have it, but I have my paper from immigration, and they just say that was trash and they just rip it up and throw it away and took all my stuff."

Other deported migrants have made similar claims of mistreatment by Tijuana police and complain of an inability to integrate back into Mexican society because of this hostility towards them by local officials and residents who see them as a nuisance because they are often homeless.

Cesar Jiménez Sánchez, another deported Mexican, said he knows of other deported migrants who have committed suicide due to the pain of separation from their families and the difficulties of trying to start over in Mexico.

Two years ago, hundreds of deported migrants were forced into drug rehabilitation centers by then-mayor Jorge Astiazarán. They were evacuated from a large homeless encampment in the Tijuana river canal which was seen as an eyesore and bad for business. A KPBS investigation found widespread complaints of human-rights abuses. Since then, deported migrants have been sleeping out in the streets, where they are often arrested.

KPBS has previously reported on mental health issues and suicidal ideation among deported migrants, which have strained the limited mental health resources in Tijuana.