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West Texas sees increase in migrant injuries from border wall falls, El Paso Times reports

The newspaper recently reported that in 2021, one El Paso hospital treated an estimated 300 undocumented migrants who had suffered injuries after falling off border barriers in the region.

By Travis Bubenik

In El Paso, hospital workers say they’ve seen a notable increase in undocumented migrants being rushed to the emergency room after falling off border walls in West Texas and New Mexico, the El Paso Times reports.

One trauma surgeon told the newspaper she has seen an “explosion” of incidents, some of which have left migrants with severe and life-changing injuries.

Marfa Public Radio recently caught up with Lauren Villagran, the El Paso Times reporter who looked into this troubling trend.

Interview Highlights

On the types of injuries doctors are seeing from border wall falls

Villagran said trauma surgeons in the El Paso area have described migrants suffering “high impact” lower extremity injuries from falling off of border barriers.

“That means really bad ankle breaks, some hip fractures, spinal injuries that have occasionally led to paralysis,” she said. “We also know that people have died falling from the wall.

On how migrants are falling from the border wall

Villagran spoke to two migrant women who described their experiences being smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border. Both women told harrowing and notably similar stories of being made to climb the border wall on the Mexican side of the border with no safe way to repel down the U.S. side.

“She was terrified,” Villagran said of one woman’s account, “and didn’t really understand until she was climbing or had seen the first person climb, that there wouldn’t be a ladder or rope or anything on the other side.”

Smugglers told the woman to “slide down” the tall, thick steel bollards used for border walls in the region, which can be as tall as a two-story building.

“It’s certainly not like a fire pole you can slide down,” Villlagran said.

On Border Patrol’s response, and the idea of walls as a “deterrent”

One Border Patrol official acknowledged to the El Paso Times that the trend is a problem, placing the blame on “ruthless” smugglers who “do not care about the well-being of the people they smuggle.”

Still, the trend calls into question the Trump administration’s building of taller, more extensive border barriers to serve as a “deterrent” to illegal immigration. 

Migration numbers, VIllagran noted, are driven by external factors like conditions in migrants’ home countries and “pull factors” here in the U.S.

“But what we know is that, with the wall in about 450 miles of replacement barrier, you see a sharp increase both in unlawful immigration, and correspondingly, border wall falls,” she said. “I think that it’s fairly clear from the numbers that the wall itself does not deter people.”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.