Trump’s border wall has resulted in ‘unprecedented’ increase in migrant injuries and death

<span>Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images
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Donald Trump’s “impenetrable” border wall has resulted in increased migrant deaths and devastating injuries from falling, according to a new study that analyzed the effect of the new barriers on a southern California hospital.

The US replaced more than 400 miles of existing barriers that were between six and 17ft tall with a 30-ft steel wall, and added nearly 50 miles of new barrier under the former president, who campaigned on the promise of “securing” America’s borders and routinely demonized migrants.

The wall has been far from Trump’s promise of being “virtually impenetrable” – smugglers breached what he called the “Rolls-Royce” of barriers more than 3,000 times since its construction. Though the former president said his wall “can’t be climbed”, migrants have continued scaling the barrier, facing great peril. Last month a woman died while attempting to scale the wall in eastern Arizona after her leg became trapped in a climbing harness and she was left hanging upside down.

A study, published in the Jama surgery journal on Friday, found an unprecedented increase in the number of falls from the border wall in San Diego and Imperial counties. The report is one of the first efforts to calculate the effects of Trump’s wall on migrants, according to the Washington Post, as federal officials don’t track deaths and injuries related to falls from the barrier.

The University of California San Diego trauma center, which treats patients with border wall injuries, saw a five-time increase in the number of people admitted with falling injuries from 67 cases between 2016 and 2018 to 375 cases between 2019 and 2021. During that same time, the number of deaths rose from zero to 16, according to the report, which cites data from the San Diego county medical examiner’s office.

Related: ‘A senseless tragedy’: woman dies after bid to climb US border wall

Trauma doctors say the rise in injuries is related to the increase of the height of the border wall.

“The height increase of the border wall along the San Ysidro and El Centro sectors was touted as making the barrier ‘unclimbable’, but that has not stopped people from attempting to do so with consequential results,” said Amy Liepert, an author of the study and medical director of acute care surgery at UC San Diego Health. “This is an unseen public health crisis happening right now.”

Most of the patients the hospital treated had “significant brain and facial injuries or complex fractures of the extremities or spine”, many of which required “intensive care and staged operative reconstructions”. Because patients largely did not have health insurance they were ineligible for rehabilitation centers or physical therapy, and had longer hospital stays.

The costs of the increase in patients was more than $13m, and further burdened the trauma center as it grappled with rising Covid cases amid the pandemic, according to the study.

“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,” the authors wrote.

The taller border wall has made what was already a perilous journey for migrants even riskier. At least 7,000 people are believed to have died along the US-Mexico border since 1998, the Guardian reported in 2021.