42-year-old Mexican immigrant Lucia Vega Jimenez died on December 28, 2013. On December 20, she was found hanging from a shower stall in the `immigration holding center’ at the Vancouver airport. Apparently, she had been hanging, without oxygen, for at least 40 minutes, before she was cut down and sent to hospital. Who tied the knot? Canada. The global system of `immigrant detention’. Everyone.
Everything about Lucia Vega Jimenez’s story is familiar. And it doesn’t end with her death.
In 2010, Jimenez had applied for asylum in Canada, was rejected and deported. She returned to Canada in the Spring of 2013, got a job, off the books, as a hotel cleaner, kept her head down and her nose to the grindstone. Described by a friend as a `ghost’ in Vancouver, Jimenez worked and saved money to send home to her ailing mother, sister and her sister’s three children. In late December, she was picked up for not paying bus fare, and then was flipped over to `the authorities.’ They shuttled her off to jail, and then to the holding cell, a private facility in the basement of the airport, and there she ended her life. While in detention, the money she’d saved `disappeared.’
The CBSA did not release any information for almost a month, and the `information’ has been obstructionist and opaque. So, the world asks questions.
A reporter asked: “How often were detainees checked? Were those checks visual inspections? Were there cameras monitoring the cells? Does the CBSA put out press releases at the death of a detainee (which has happened several times in the past), and is there legislation that bounds the agency to announce the death of a detainee? What is the CBSA policy regarding visitors to the YVR [Vancouver International Airport] holding center? Are lawyers, family, friends, John Howard Society, religious counsel, etc. allowed in?”
No answer was forthcoming.
Friends and advocates want to know what happened. Why did no one see Lucia Vega Jimenez for at least 40 some minutes? The Mexican government wants to know what happens to its citizens in `holding centers’. The Mexican Consul-General, Claudia Franco Hijuelos, has a particular interest: “She was fearful of going back to Mexico – not to the country, but specifically to some domestic situation that she might face. That is why we provided some options for her of transition houses where she might be housed. She considered the options and she chose one of those options. Everything was set for her to fly directly to that city in Mexico where the transition house would receive her.” According to the Consul-General, Vega “seemed to be accepting the situation.”
What happened? The questions of time – how long it took to find Vega, how long it took to `report’ her death – are part and parcel of the structure of gendered indignity for immigrant women. Four years ago, a study on health, access to services and working conditions for undocumented migrants in Canada noted: “The effects of being non-status are invariably gendered. Non-status women have been noted to be extremely vulnerable to poverty, unemployment, poor and unstable living conditions, danger, exploitation, abuse, and high risk or complications during pregnancy. Lack of status limits women’s ability to access information, seek social assistance, counseling or health care, which contributes to their reliance on unsafe and underground employment or informal networks to obtain housing … Generally, non-status women have also been noted to experience more language barriers, social isolation, and fear, in addition to lack of control over partner abuse and the effects of this on their children. In relation to policies, regularization programs and other immigration policies have been noted to reinforce dominant power relations that consequently subjugate women as dependents of their opposite sex partners.”
Lucia Vega Jimenez lived, and died, the life of the undocumented women immigrant. Precarious doesn’t begin to cover it. But she persevered. And the State? The State chose to “reinforce dominant power … that subjugates women.”