Heightened Border Wall Linked to Rise in Serious Migrant Injuries: Study

The number of migrants who suffered serious injuries or died after falling from the U.S.-Mexico border wall in California increased after the wall was heightened, according to a new study by researchers at UC San Diego Health.

Amy Liepert, the medical director of acute care surgery at UC San Diego Health, said in a Friday press release that construction undertaken in recent years to heighten the border wall has not deterred migrants from attempting the climb.

"This is an unseen public health crisis happening right now and it has significantly affected major local health care providers in San Diego," Liepert said in the release.

U.S.-Mexico border wall heightened migrant injuries
A new study said there has been an increase in serious injuries from border wall-related falls since the wall separating the U.S. from Mexico was heightened in southern California. Above, surveillance towers stand beside the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana on May 10, 2021 in San Diego County, California. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The health costs associated with treating border wall-related fall injuries have also increased, researchers said. The study's findings were published Friday in JAMA Surgery.

The study focused on border wall-related falls that occurred in Southern California between January 2016 and December 2021. In 2017, former President Donald Trump decided to heighten and expand the existing border wall separating the U.S. from Mexico in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants entering the U.S. Many sections that had previously been 6 to 17 feet in height were replaced with 30-foot-high barriers. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said sections of the border wall construction project in San Diego were completed in 2019.

According to UC San Diego Health researchers, there were "significant increases" in the number of people injured after falling from the taller border wall starting in 2019. The number of serious injuries and deaths linked to border wall falls also increased.

Before construction on the wall concluded in 2019, researchers said there were 67 people taken to UC San Diego Health's trauma center for border wall-related fall injuries from 2016 to 2018. More than five times as many patients were treated for border wall-related fall injuries in the years that followed, with 375 reported between 2019 and 2021.

There was also an increase in fatalities associated with border wall-related falls, with none reported between 2016 and 2018 but 16 reported between 2019 and 2021, according to the press release.

The study noted that the adoption of Title 42 in early 2020 "may have increased the numbers and desperation of persons crossing the border away from ports of entry and increased the number of falls." The controversial policy enabled the federal government to block migrants from entering the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic was gaining a foothold in the country.

In addition to the rise of migrant injuries and fatalities reported in the study, researchers said there have been increased economic costs associated with treating border wall-related fall injuries, some of which have lasting impacts and require extensive treatment. Researchers said treating these injuries requires the availability of resources, such as bed space and physicians, at trauma centers.

"Additional capacity and associated costs were not accounted for in the federally appropriated funds to reinforce and heighten the border barrier system," Liepert said in the release. The cost of treating border wall-related fall injuries between 2019 and 2021 at UC San Diego Health was about $13 million, she added.

Newsweek reached out to the CBP for comment.