The 30-foot steel border fence along the U.S.-Mexico border is causing an alarming number of injuries and fatalities among migrants attempting to cross, according to emerging public health data. Trauma surgeons in border communities have observed a surge in patients with fall-related injuries since the height of the border wall was increased. County hospitals in El Paso and San Diego are receiving an average of one patient per day with border wall fall-related trauma. These injuries range from severe lower extremity breaks to life-altering spinal and cranial injuries. Physicians warn that this is a public health crisis for border communities, especially as the Biden administration and the state of Texas plan to invest in new border fencing.
The injured migrants at an El Paso shelter shared their harrowing experiences of climbing the 30-foot fence using makeshift rope ladders. They were unaware of the height and the lack of a safe way down on the U.S. side. They also did not believe they would be eligible for a visa or considered presenting themselves at a port of entry. These migrants faced dangerous situations in the hands of traffickers and had no choice but to climb the fence.
The data from trauma surgeons in border hospitals reveal a significant increase in border wall fall-related trauma since the 30-foot fence was constructed. In El Paso, the University Medical Center recorded a single death from a border wall fall between 2000 and 2019. However, last year alone, nine patients died and another 326 were treated for injuries. In San Diego, the University of California, San Diego Health medical center has seen 345 patients with border wall fall-related trauma this year. The increase in injuries coincides with the expansion of the higher fence and a surge in migration.
Physicians argue that the height of the wall contributes to the severity of the injuries. The 30-foot height induces vertigo and makes it easier for migrants to fall off the wall. Vicki Gaubeca, associate director of U.S. immigration and border policy for Human Rights Watch, suggests that the height of the wall is intentional in creating more hazards for migrants.
The increase in border wall fall-related trauma is a significant public health problem that requires attention and preventive measures. Trauma surgeons have developed best practices to address these injuries, such as regularly ordering CT scans of the spine and providing appropriate post-operative care. However, the surge in injuries has overwhelmed hospitals and caused delays in care for both migrants and local residents.
As the Biden administration and the state of Texas continue to invest in new border fencing, it is crucial to consider the public health outcomes of these barriers. The high number of injuries and fatalities associated with the 30-foot border fence highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive approach to border security that prioritizes the safety and well-being of all individuals involved.