EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The number of serious injuries stemming from falls from the border wall has risen dramatically in the past three years, a Texas Tech surgeon says. So has the severity of the wounds resulting from said falls, according to a soon-to-be-published study based on emergency room and hospital data.
“The main point of our article is (that) in the past three years, we are seeing more numbers of persons brought to our centers after a fall from the border wall compared to the years before 2019,” said Dr. Susan McLean, professor of surgery at Texas Tech University. “There was a wall prior to 2019, but it was shorter, and we saw five to 10 patients a year. For the last two years, we have seen around 250. So, there are more patients, and the injuries are more severe.”
Border wall construction and replacement became a centerpiece of the Trump administration’s deterrence strategy against illegal immigration. Trump bragged about building hundreds of miles of new border wall, in most cases replacing 18-foot wire mesh with 30-foot-tall bollards with a 5-foot steel plate on top.
McLean said victims of falls often come into hospital rooms with lower extremity fractures – sometimes with bone protruding from the skin. Those are easy to spot, but what often requires the use of a CT scan to be detected are spinal fractures.
“When dealing with persons who may have been found on the ground after a fall from the border wall […] it’s important how you take care of the patient, keeping the spine intact until they can be worked on and treated,” she said.
McLean spoke about the research in a Zoom interview on Thursday. A few weeks ago, she also talked about it at a drowning and border wall falls prevention event sponsored by the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso’s Lower Valley.
She said the main takeaways from the research are:
- More migrants have been injured in falls since the taller wall was built. In 2019, El Paso-area hospitals recorded 97 border wall injury admissions, compared to 250 in 2020 and 2021.
- Injuries from border wall falls have become more severe during the latter time frame. Some of the injuries were so severe the patient was left disabled, unable to work.
“We score all patients with an injury severity score so we can compare patients with different injuries. Comparing patients admitted after falls from the border wall before 2019 to afterwards, there is a significantly higher total injury severity score,” McLean said.
- The third takeaway is an increase in spinal injuries.
“We have seen ER patients arrive with leg fracture, often a very significant one, then we find the spinal injury only after imaging like CT scans,” the Texas Tech surgeon said. “When a person is encountered after falling from border wall and has a leg fracture, (he or she) may also have a spine fracture no one knows about.”
At the earlier Border Patrol event, agency officials said they want migrants to be aware of the dangers of crossing the border illegally and encouraged them to seek legal paths instead.
They also talked about a rescue unit called BORSTAR whose agents are trained to effect rescues of migrants stuck atop the wall and of first-aid and paramedic training their agents receive, as they’re often the first responders on the scene of a fall or other mishap.