As Alma Zavala approached the top of the 30-foot steel border fence, she realized the dangerous height she would have to drop from if she made it over. When she reached the top, she hugged the wall and held on, though she was bleeding, until her grip faltered and she let go, shattering her bones as she landed. Zavala, alongside several other migrants, laid in a bed at an El Paso shelter, recovering from their horrific injuries. Among the group, they had undergone eight surgeries in the past month.
Growing medical evidence indicates a serious public health crisis of migrants getting injured at the Southwest border due to the U.S. government’s increase in the height of the border wall to slow down migration. Physicians state that the falls and fatalities are presenting as an alarming issue in local public health while record numbers of migrants are being apprehended.
Chief trauma surgeons at county hospitals in El Paso and San Diego have reported that they are receiving patients with border wall fall-related trauma at a rate of one per day in 2023. These injuries include a wide range of medical issues from shattering bones, both in the legs and spinal areas, to several life-altering injuries.
Data has demonstrated a growth in the number of border wall fall-related trauma cases with the expansion of the 30-foot fence and a surge in migration, which resulted in the number of Border Patrol migrant encounters rising from 400,000 in fiscal year 2020 to over 2.4 million in fiscal year 2023.
Officials used the 30-foot fence as a deterrent for migrants, but the injuries caused by this increased barrier have overwhelmed the local emergency and medical systems. The injuries sustained by medically compromised migrants have become a serious public health concern and consequence with lifelong ramifications.
Migrants have found themselves in situations where they were forced to climb the wall using makeshift rope ladders, leading to severely debilitating injuries for those who didn’t make it. The consequences for those making it over have been life-altering, leading to longer waiting periods for locals seeking medical care.
The stories of migrants climbing the wall for a new life are only being told by survivors, some who are left with a difficult road to recovery in foreign countries. They are forced to bear cruel consequences for seeking opportunities.
Zavala, lying in pain in her bed, is an example of the painful consequences of a dangerous gamble for a better future. These migrants now must bear the true weight of the American Dream.