In Canada, another casualty of immigration laws and indifference

On December 20th 2013 Lucia Vega Jimenez committed suicide, hanging herself in a shower stall of a bleak border facility at the Vancouver International Airport under the jurisdiction of Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA. She died eight days later in a hospital.

The Transit Police arrested Lucia for two reasons. First, she did not purchase her bus ticket. Second her name and origin could be the source of a serious offense. It became a life-and-death offense for Lucia.

After her arrest, her fate was in the hands of CBSA, who sent her to their Vancouver airport facility to await deportation.

The news of Lucia Vega Jimenez’s death surfaced over a month after she died. It has generated a number of outcries and questions. But what are the questions?

Why was she detained in quasi isolation with no contact allowed with friends and family members? What is the border that the CBSA is “defending” so harshly?

After 9-11 2001, the rhetoric about border insecurity and porosity was utilized by CBSA to implement secrecy as its regular practice through protection against terrorism legislation in 2003. According to immigration lawyer Phil Rankin, “They think themselves as the first line against terrorism.”

Exactly what borders are we talking about, as all sorts of merchandise and products travel freely thanks to manipulative trade agreements? Moreover, a certain code of silence surrounds the way the global market trade system impoverishes and destabilizes populations, especially women.

Lucia was 42. she was worried for her safety, as she had made a failed refugee claim in 2010. She was distraught, as some cash that she saved for her family had been stolen.  She was detained in a facility that is described as a very lonely, isolated place. Phil Rankin explained, “No one gets in or out. It’s very impersonal, very secure, and very private, there’s no John Howard Society, no visits from family or lawyers. They want to move these people without a fuss or muss. There’s no oversight by non-officials.”

This question of lack of independent oversight has been challenged by the BC Civil Liberties Association and No One Is Illegal, a grassroots organization that works to end detention for migrants in Canada.  Then, should we question the fact that the CBSA has contracted with a private firm (Genesis Security)?

Despite some 7000 signatures on a petition that demands an “immediate public inquiry and a comprehensive review of migrant detention policies,” the tone of some comments from forums such as a local TV forum reveals that the general public has been rendered insensitive to these questions of detention of migrants. The reality of Lucia’s death in isolation, the reality of a woman who worked and lived in Vancouver as a domestic worker, vanishes under the views that she was “illegal” and responsible for killing herself. These populist utterances are encouraged and help to camouflage the reasons for border security that justify the mistreatment of migrants and the surveillance of everyone.

We should wonder how borders have become private and secretly run to serve the global market and how in the midst of privatization and deregulation policies, Lucia Vega Jimenez had come to prefer to kill herself rather than being deported. We should wonder about the complete indifference of officials who pride themselves in defending their country, but defending their country against what?

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States.