The number of people jumping or falling to their death while climbing over the U.S.-Mexico border wall has risen from zero to 16 in the San Diego area since the wall there was heightened from 18 to 30 feet in 2018 under the Trump administration. This is according to a new report by medics in the University of California San Diego hospital trauma unit, published in the Jama Surgery journal. The paper is one of the first of its kind to estimate the number of fatalities and injuries resulting from the border wall.
While the rate of people crossing the border in the area has remained pretty similar over the years, with the number of apprehensions rising by only 0.2 percent from 159,175 people to 159,614 between 2016-18 and 2019-21, there’s been a clear increase in hospital admissions, deaths and medical costs. Where 67 people were being sent to hospital between 2016 and 2018, when the wall was 18 feet high, this shot up to 375 between 2019 and 2021, when it was 30 feet, marking a more than fivefold increase in admissions. Jay Doucet, chief of the trauma division at UC San Diego Health, tells the Washington Post: “Once you go over 20 feet, and up to 30 feet, the chance of severe injury and death are higher. We’re seeing injuries we didn’t see before: pelvic fractures, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and a lot of open fractures when the bone comes through the skin.” The article goes on to say that people crossing the border include those who are middle-aged and even pregnant.
Without health insurance, most patients have not been able to access the rehabilitation and therapy needed after being discharged. This has been leading to longer stays in hospital, at a time when the center was already burdened with the Covid pandemic. The report states: “The care of these injured immigrants is not only a humanitarian problem but also a public health crisis that further worsened trauma center bed capacity, staff shortages and professionals’ moral injury.” This is reflected in the figures, as our chart shows, of how the median cost per patient has risen from $30,714 to $44,786, reflecting the increased severity of the injuries.
The authors conclude with a plea to decision makers: “In March 2020, President Trump ordered adoption of Title 42, allowing CBP to expel certain migrants without asylum screening. This may have increased the numbers and desperation of persons crossing the border away from ports of entry and increased the number of falls. Future border barrier policy decisions should include assessment of the impact of increased injuries on local health care systems as well as humanitarian consequences. We seek collaborators to prevent and mitigate the injuries and resultant suffering of those immigrants crossing the southern border.”